Reusable or cloth grocery bags or totes are popping up everywhere you go! You might have seen them while in the checkout line at the grocery store or on display at your favorite home goods store. But what is so great about these popular bags? Is it more than just a fad?
The Statistical History Behind Plastic Bags
The traditional plastic grocery bag was first introduced in 1977 and accounts for four out of every five bags handed out at grocery stores. When you stop to think about it, plastic bags can be a real hassle. They rip easily, fly away easily, and are an apartment resident’s worst nightmare! Having to double and triple bag everything is time consuming and wasteful. Even more alarming, however, is that according to statistics, plastic bags are the fifth most collected item during coastal clean-ups. That’s a lot of plastic bags!
If this information isn’t quite sinking in, just listen to this–since most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from nonrenewable sources like crude oil and natural gas, the United States alone uses 12 million barrels of oil a year to meet the increasing demand for plastic bags. If you think that switching to paper bags is the solution, think again!
The Statistical History Behind Paper Bags
When that friendly bagger at the end of the checkout lane asks “paper or plastic” and you feel good about yourself for choosing paper rather than plastic, assuming that you have made the right choice, you might want to reconsider that decision and take a new approach altogether. The United States cuts down at least 14 million trees a year to produce paper bags and since paper bags are heavier than plastic bags, transporting them means using even more fossil fuel and pollutants. Furthermore, recent research shows that both paper and plastic bags have a hard time degrading completely in landfills, only adding to the earth’s environmental problems. Many people have given up altogether on recycling grocery bags despite these shocking numbers because they either a.) don’t care or even really stop to think about it or b.) get sick of the overflowing piles of grocery bags under the sink or cabinet that keeps accumulating and never goes away. A lot of people might not even realize that most grocery stores have a recycling bin for paper or plastic bags. How hard is it to take them back to the store? That’s at least a start.
Finding A Better Solution
While recycling grocery bags is a start, it still is not the answer, since polluted landfills and other issues still exist. The better solution is investing in reusable grocery bags made from cloth or other eco-friendly materials. Sure, they may seem costly priced at $1.00 or more, but just think of all the benefits switching to cloth bags will have! Less pollution, less fossil fuel being used, no more double bagging, no more bags ripping in the parking lot and losing half of your groceries, no more overflowing plastic bag stashes crammed under the sink, etc. When you stop to think about it, cloth bags aren’t just more sustainable, they are also more convenient!
My biggest pet peeve with cloth bags is remembering to put them back in the car when I go shopping, so that they are on hand and ready to go. Three years later its still a work in progress. However, finding a way to remind yourself not to forget the bags, like leaving them near the door so you don’t forget can be helpful. Making this a habit will help eliminate this problem and get you on the right track to success.
Just one cloth bag will help eliminate the unnecessary need for 1,000 plastic bags. While any reusable bag will do the trick, bags made from 100% cotton seem to work best, but there are many different options to choose from. Recycled or organic cotton, hemp, drawstring burlap bags, etc. are all available to shoppers.
The Benefits Of Using Reusable Grocery Bags
So besides all the statistical and eco-friendly benefits to using reusable bags, what are some other benefits to making this switch?
- Bigger/sturdier bags that hold more groceries, means less trips to the car and less hassle
- Helps save wildlife from eating, choking on, or getting tangled in plastic bags
- Could potentially save you money. Many stores like Whole Foods offer discounts if you bring your own bags. You can save a few cents off each grocery trip or donate the savings to one of the charities the store supports.
- Shop in style. Let’s face it, plastic and paper bags are boring! But with reusable bags you can choose the size, color, design, or logo. You can buy bags with cute characters or designs, or customize a tote to match your style, personality, or hobbies. Carrying a tote with a message can help you spread awareness for a good cause–so what are you waiting for? Go ahead, and get on with your bad activist self!
- Helps reduce clutter and saves a trip to recycling
Overall, when you do the math, it just doesn’t make sense not to make the switch to reusable bags!
Need Help Finding A Reusable Bag?
Reusable bags are not hard to find. Many grocery stores or department stores sell them and are prone to displaying a wide array of them near the checkout aisles. Stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and Meijer are notorious for selling them. They can also be purchased online, recycled from stores that hand them out to customers, made from materials at home, etc. There are all kinds of ways to get your very own reusable bags! But if you need some help getting started, here are a few places to look.
Custom eco-friendly bags – Customize your own eco-friendly bag and choose from a wide variety of styles
Uline – All natural, biodegradable burlap and cloth bags
Cafe Press – Help spread the word with these nifty vegan canvas bags that sport a message
Statistics from epa.gov