Green Tip: Skip the Bag
I’m human – I have a lot of pet peeves. But nothing bothers me more than when I’m at the convenience store and the person in front me accepts a single-use plastic bag to carry out their pack of gum. Or maybe it’s an energy drink and a cliff bar. Or a bag of chips and bottled water (don’t get me started). Herein lays the problem: too many people are used to answering the question, “Paper or plastic?” Consumers need to start asking themselves if they need a bag at all; and if the answer is ‘yes,’ we need to start planning ahead.
The Worldwatch Institute claims Americans throw out 100 billion plastic bags per year (less than 1 percent of which get recycled) – but at what cost? Shopping bags represent a tiny expense for retailers, and they are typically offered to consumers free of charge. While the short-term financial impact of plastic bag pollution may seem small, the long-term environmental effect is crippling. Never mind the estimated 12 million barrels of oil necessary to produce the aforementioned 100 billion bags (NYTimes). Plastic bags can take anywhere between 20 – 1000 years to breakdown, often releasing harmful toxins in the process. As a society, we need to change the way we think. Reduce – Reuse - RETHINK – Recycle. That’s right, recycling should be a last resort.
So what can you do? Plan ahead when you go shopping – Target, Express, Trader Joe’s – wherever you are going to need to carry something out with you. Have a bag than you can reuse at those different places. That bag you have from your most recent Gap purchase? Go put it in your car – right now – the next time you’re in need of a bag, you’ll have one at your disposal. For grocery shopping, invest in durable, canvas-type bags (click here for tips). If you’re feeling bold, share these tips with strangers when you see them being wasteful with plastic bags at the check-out counter. If they ask you what your problem is, you can kindly reply, “Oh nothing really, just trying to save the world.”
In the news: Many states (including CA) legislature in place to ban or reduce the use of plastic bags. My favorite? Washington D.C. started charging consumers 5 cents per plastic bag they needed at check-out last year. That might be the only way to get consumers’ attention.