Reading Log: “Is It Time to Bag The Plastic?”

I read articles like this and my smug-ometer goes up into the Gwyneth zone. I mean, really. People are still using plastic bags? (Kidding! I am not judging you plastic bag users. OK maybe a little bit.)

Key points I found interesting:

  • plastic bags can’t be recycled in general recycling. (And if you put them in your regular recycling, they will jam up the sorting machines and even damage them. And they ain’t cheap to fix.)
  • New York City’s annual plastic bag toll- $10 million a year, 100,000 tons of plastic bags in landfills.
  • Volume of plastic bags in landfills: soaring exponentially
  • Bag taxes and bans are the most effective way to reduce plastic bag consumption– but no one likes them.

As a long time plastic bag avoider, here are some tips to make it easier remember your own bags:

  • Shop at stores that give you a bag credit. (This only helps if you are a cheapskate like me- but Whole Foods and Sprouts both give 5 cents credit for each bag. Ralphs gives you Ralphs Rewards points which is BS since I never rack up enough in a month to get a gas discount- bring back the 5 cents bag credit, Ralphs!  Trader Joe’s lets you enter into a drawing for free groceries which I have never won but which I fantasize about like some people fantasize about winning the lotto. I imagine the sesame honey cashew binge I will go on and it’s a heck of a motivator.)
  • Keep bags in your car/bike basket/main means of transportation at all time. I have not bought a reuseable grocery bag in– ever?– because they hand them out as freebies at conferences and whatnot. Anyway, I keep them in my car trunk and even if I forget to bring them in to the store I can still skip the plastic bag- I just tell the checker to put the groceries straight into the cart and bag them when I get to my car. Easy.
  • Buy once, use less. I keep a Riesenthal reuseable shopping bag in my handbag at all times. It folds up to about the size of a packet of tissues and keeps you from getting caught buying something without a bag to put it in. I like the kind that folds up and has the elastic strap more than the one that folds into a pocket- less to fuss with.
  • Just say no. A lot of times, like if I have misjudged how many reusable bags I will need on a grocery run or if I’m getting a flat of berries at the Farmer’s Market, I’ll get offered an extra bag. I am fine carrying that extra box of cereal or holding the berries- just say no!

And one extreme tip from my friend Amy, who is on a mission to go totally plastic free:

  • Save old bread bags and reuse in place of plastic bags when buying bulk items or produce. (I have produce bags but they are often in use and/or in the wash- so I tend to get my produce loose. But I also do have plastic bread bags each week because I am not going to bake my own sandwich bread when House of Bread and Homeboy Industries do such a good job…. and while this tip smacks of Depression-era frugal lunacy, it does keep you from using plastic bags for your produce or your bulk beans.)

How many plastic bags come into your house each week– and how far are you willing to go to reduce your bag consumption? Would a bag ban make you change your ways or would you not even notice?


4 responses to this post.

  1. Here in Alameda county, handled plastic bags have been banned at any vendor that sells food. This has led to hilarious consequences, like our farmers’ market taking out an x-acto knife and slicing through the handles on the bags they already have in stock.

    Ahem. Bags. We have been using our own for groceries for six, seven years? I save food-related plastic bags (bread, produce, whatever) for scooping cat poop. I also save and re-use zip-top plastic bags. I suppose in an ideal world, we’d all use adorable oil cloth pouches to convey food and all leftovers would be stored in glass containers (no BPAs!), but in my world, I use the same handful of gallon ziplocs to store produce or cooked pasta, and cycle the quart sized bags through all manner of storage.


    • Posted by Hannah Spector on May 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      Yeah, the glass jars are on my “not quite there yet” list. (And I don’t know if I’ll be quite there, I have a sizeable tupperware/fake tupperware collection that I am comfortable with since I don’t use it to heat food. And I can’t pack parts of the boys’ lunch in glass.)

      I was quite happy with myself when I cut the plastic bag-ice bath step out of my ice cream making routine- turns out just sticking the bowl in the fridge for an hour chills it just fine.

      Also, Lisa, I forgot to mention washing the bags, which you got me hip to. I use the canvas bags for edible groceries and wash them after each use (I just throw them in a regular hot laundry load.) I do have one big insulated bag that I spray and wipe down after each use. Non-washable bags are only used for non-edible items or thoroughly packaged items like cereal.


  2. Posted by Amy S. on May 28, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    I just took it a step further. I’d been saving those free cotton/cloth bags that come with shoe purchases with no purpose in mind. So I washed them and now use those for bulk bin purchases in addition to mesh cotton produce bags. They even have a drawstring! Now if only I could work up the nerve to ask Whole Foods to weigh and mark the tare of the bag so I wouldn’t lose money every time I use them because they do weigh more than plastic bread bags.
    Still searching for a plastic free way to store the bread I bake. Ideas?


    • Posted by Hannah Spector on May 29, 2013 at 12:02 am

      Oh, good idea Amy. I may wind up making some with muslin –

      The problem with bread is that it dries out! Although I did hear a guy on the Cook’s Illustrated radio show the other week talking about how he would store bread in a tupperware container with foil on the sliced end- wonder if it would work in a glass jar? I guess you would have to have a glass jar big enough.


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