A Solution to the “Bag of Bags” Problem

Plastic bags are used in pretty much every store in America.  Growing up my family seemed to have a never ending supply stashed in our “bag of bags”, a large bag in our mudroom where we would shove all the smaller bags.  They would get used to line trash cans around the house and while this still meant those bags would end up sitting in landfills for hundreds of years, at least it replaced our need to buy commercially produced garbage bags.

Now that I’m living on my own I seem to collect far more plastic bags than I have use for.  I attribute this mostly to the fact that I don’t need as many trash cans in my apartment as my family needed for a household of 4, but it might also be that I empty my trash cans less frequently than I probably should…  Either way, my bag of bags just keeps growing to the point where I fear I might be considered a hoarder.  Luckily, places such as Target and most grocery stores have plastic bag recycling stations where people like myself can get rid of their plastic bag monster.  The problem is that I always forget to bring my stash with me when I shop at these places and there’s no way I’m making a separate trip solely to get rid of them.  So the bag hoarding continues.

If I cared less I might just throw away my excess of bags.  *Gag*  I can’t even write that without feeling disgusted.  I do care a great deal, and hopefully you do to!  Why should we care?  Here are several reasons I can think of:

  • The problem that bothers me the most is how often plastic bags end up in the ocean where they are eaten by sea turtles and whales who think they are prey.  This article sums up the end result of this plastic ingestion.
  • Plastic bags don’t decompose so they just sit around filling up the landfill.  Once one landfill is full municipal garbage will just make a new one somewhere else.
  • Throwing a bag in the trash rather than recycling means new bags need to be made from “virgin” material.  This is plastic that contains no recycled material and instead is made from oil.  Hopefully I don’t need to tell you that using oil to make plastic bags is not ideal.  More oil for making bags = less oil for making gas for your car = higher gas prices.  Is that a bit of a stretch?  Maybe, but you get the point.
  • Besides reducing oil supply, the whole process of producing the plastic and the bags requires energy, most likely from coal, and therefore contributes to pollution.

Since I am morally opposed to throwing them away I need some way to reuse these bags.  I’m thinking I’ll try making some plastic bag yarn and crochet some grocery totes.  There are countless other ways to reuse plastic bags floating around the internet, but I’d rather tackle the problem at its source and stop collecting plastic bags all together.

The way to do this is obviously through the use of reusable bags.  I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you my collection of frequently used bags:

My bag collection

My bag collection

The cloth bags with the owls and the fruit on them were made by my mom from some of my favorite old t-shirts.  It was a great way to make some beloved shirts useful even though they no longer fit.  The bag in the middle with the picture of the lemon I bought in France during my summer studying abroad and is probably the best 1.50 euro I spent there.  Not only did it save me a 50 euro overweight bag charge at the airport on my way home (I used it as my carry-on and filled it with the text books I was given for my classes) but it has been my go-to bag for every grocery run since.  I love how the lemon was made to look like an adorable pig saying “We make a change for the planet!” or something close to that.  The last bag I got at a conference I attended with my student group, Engineers Without Borders.  The bags were made by Freeset, a group that creates jobs for women stuck in India’s sex trade.  This bag was made by these women to help them start a new life.  Learn more at www.freesetglobal.com.

So this takes care of the majority of my bag use at the grocery store.  But there is one plastic problem they don’t solve: produce and bulk goods bags.  I prefer to eat fresh produce and buy things like dry beans, rice, quinoa, and oatmeal in bulk.  Depending on what I need that week I could use anywhere from 3 to 10 of those little bags each trip!  Clearly this just feeds my plastic bag monster.  I’ve found several reusable alternatives, all of which I’ve added to my plastic independence wishlist:

  1. Kootsac bags, available on their Etsy shop would be perfect for bulk goods!  They come in a variety or colors, sizes and materials.  They’re also washable!

    Kootsac bags

  2. Wonder Thunder, another Etsy shop, has some adorable organic cotton bags I would love to use for produce at the farmers market.  The problem with using them at a grocery store is that cashiers can’t see the produce in them for easy check-out.

    Wonder Thunder bags

  3.  These Flip & Tumble bags could be the solution to the visibility problem.  I think they’re also available at The Container Store, or at least a very similar product.  While still made from polyester they would at least be easy to wash and reuse.

    Flip&Tumble bag

    Flip&Tumble bag

  4. These bags from Ambatalia are my favorite.  They would likely be best used at farmers markets and maybe for bulk food items.  I love the cute Japanese inspired products.  Unfortunately they are out of my price range, but if I had all the money….  I have a major crush on their bento bags, though they seem to have a limited selection.  Hopefully more will be coming in the spring.  I really like this company and their blog, which also has a good post on the plastic bag problem.

    Bento bag in use

So there you go! Plenty of options to keep your apples from rolling around in your shopping cart without ever having to reach for that bag dispenser.  Don’t you hate how there never seem to be any of those next to the type of produce you want to buy anyway?  This way I’ll never have to awkwardly walk around the produce stand to pull a bag again.  If you’re concerned that these bags will add to the weight of your produce, all of the above products are advertised to be very lightweight.  I think the price difference may be a couple cents per grocery trip, but if you’re really concerned you can often take your bags to the customer service counter to get them pre-weighed.  I’ve heard of people doing this with mason jars for buying bulk foods.  Ask if your grocery store allows this.

The major problem that comes with using your own shopping/produce bags is that you have to remember to bring them to the store.  There have been so many times that I’ve gone to Target and not only forgotten my pile of bags to recycle but I also forgot my shopping bag!  Always frustrating.  Here are some tips to remember those bags every time:

  • Keep a stack next to the door so you can see them and grab them on your way out.
  • Keep a couple of bags in your trunk.  This way if you stop for some shopping after work you’re all set.
  • If you tend to forget the bags in your trunk when you walk into the store try keeping them on your passenger seat or tucked between your seat and the center console.
  • Ladies, you could stash a couple bags in your purse if you’re the type who carries around a sizable tote.
  • Always return your bags to their storage location after shopping.  You would have needed to bring those plastic bags to your “bag of bags” spot anyways, so it shouldn’t be any more hassle to return your reusable bags to the spot you like to keep them.

Well, I believe that’s all I have to say on the subject of the plastic bag problem.  I hope you found some of it interesting or useful, and I hope you’ll join me in reducing your plastic bag use any way you can!

– Steph

* This post is not sponsored.  All products advertised are simply those I liked while researching plastic bag alternatives.