Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life without Plastic Bags

The Conscious Shopper says byebye to plastic grocery bags.

Three years ago, I decided to switch to cloth grocery bags. I didn't know anyone else who used cloth bags and I suspected that the bagboy at my grocery store would throw a fit and refuse to bag my groceries, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And that I could easily bag my own groceries.

I dived right in, collecting a huge stash of bags for my bi-weekly trips to the grocery store, and besides a few rolled eyes from the cashiers, it's been a seamless transition.

Except for one thing...remembering to take my bags.

After a few months, I got pretty good at bringing my bags to the grocery store - after emptying out the groceries, I'd stick the bags back in the car, so they'd always be there for my next trip.

The problem was those quick in-and-out kind of shopping trips - like a quick run to the drugstore or a quick pitstop at the arts and craft store or a quick pop-in to the hardware store. I'd run into the store, grab what I needed, and swing out the door with plastic bag in hand before I'd realize, "Woops! I forgot my bag!" So I got a small wallet size bag to keep in my purse. Problem solved.

But then there was my husband, who is one of those really really smart, really really spacey kind of guys who definitely doesn't have room in his brain to remember to bring his own bag. I bought him a wallet size bag to keep in his backpack. Didn't help. I nagged a lot. Didn't help. Finally I gave it time...He seems to be coming around.

And then one morning after changing my two-year-old out of his nasty, stinky, disposable nighttime diaper and into a soft cotton Chinese pre-fold daytime diaper with lime green wrap, I went searching for a plastic bag to dispose of the smelly, um, disposable...and discovered that the plastic bag dispenser was empty.

It was a total Mother Hubbard experience, except with plastic bags instead of food.

My initial thought was to blame my husband. "Whad'you do with all the bags?" I called.

"I didn't touch them!" He shouted back.

Hmmm...I turned to the kids. "Did you guys take the plastic bags?"

Blank looks. "What bags?"

"The plastic bags. The grocery bags. The one's that go in here," I said, pointing to the dispenser.

The two little ones shook their heads, but the big guy nodded. "You used them all in my Halloween costume," he reminded me.

Oh yeah, he was a cowboy, and we used the bags to stuff the head of our homemade hobby horse. I shrugged, figuring it would only take a few weeks to restock our bag stash and that I could be creative in the meantime.

That was November, and now we've gone almost three months without plastic bags. I dispose of diapers in those little rain baggies the newspaper comes in. Sometimes I use a carrot bag or an apple bag. I stopped lining our bathroom bins completely and instead periodically empty them into the big trashcan. Occasionally, my husband still brings home a plastic bag, but now he's progressed far enough to notice his mistake and apologize for it.

Which makes me smile.

Life is possible without plastic bags. In fact, I barely notice the difference...

A few weeks after we ran out of plastic bags, I reached for a paper towel and discovered that the paper towel dispenser was empty. My initial thought: "Hmmm...I wonder how long we can go without paper towels?"


As a final thought, I wanted to thank all of you for your amazing response to my questions last week. There are so many helpful comments there, and if you haven't read them, you should pop on over and check them out. I, for one, need to go back through and take notes on the snack and lunch ideas.


therese said...

I've had that exact same experience with the plastic bags - suddenly you're out of it. The problem here is that everybody use plastic grocery bags for trash bags. More or less everybody keeps bins under the sink, lined with a bag. It would become a really nasty, disgusting mix if we didn't, and we'd have to scrape it out of the bin. There's always some kind of gooey stuff that goes in there.

The Raven said...

The way we finally got ourselves to stop using bags was to charge ourselves $1 for every disposable bag we used. We kept the money in a coffee jar with plans to donate it eventually to a green charity. It filled up very quickly for a couple of weeks--but we haven't put more than a couple of dollars in during the last year. I don't think it was the money that made the difference--since we would have donated anyway--but instead the reminder after the fact what we were doing. It definitely worked!

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

we have a problem wherein we need to accept plastic bags so we have some to reuse when cleaning up after our dogs on the street. still haven't figured out any other kind of solution. spending money to buy the special biodegradable doggie bags is a waste of money in my opinion since they won't actually biodegrade in our landfill. i'm glad you have been able to make it work without plastic bags.

Anonymous said...

Save bread bags also!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Julia - The thing that has surprised me since we ran out of bags is that we figured out how to adapt. We don't have dogs, but we do have diapers, and even though we don't have plastic grocery bags anymore, we still have newspaper bags, some fruit and vegetable bags, and tortilla bags. Whatever you do, though, I'm grateful that you pick up after your dogs! Dog poop in places where my kids play drives me crazy!

The 4 Bushel Farmgal said...

Ditto Anonymous! I don't bake bread anymore (one-person household) so the sliced bread bags come in handy for the gooey trash.
I made cloth "veggie" bags last year so the supply of plastic bags is pretty short around here, too.

wildfleur said...

We've been almost completely (grocery) plastic bag free for over a year now and it feels great. although we buy lots of produce and still have to use those bags to protect from the gross things in the checkout lane, we just put them back in the reusable bag for the next trip and they are ready to go. and they work well as bag liners when needed. I also noticed that some magazines and charity requests show up in plastic bags which I now reuse as best I can.

Anonymous said...

We had the "ran out of plastic bags" experience a few months ago...However, my Mom doesn't bring her own bags and so she always has a mountain of plastic bags growing in her closet. I just take some of hers and reuse them myself for the things like nasty trash. I figure that way, they are at least being used again instead of just being tossed.

Laura in So Cal

panamamama said...

Great story! I am so bad about bags. I have them all in the back of my car but forget to take them in half the time. ARGH.
Now, paper towels I do without. Bad if you step in doggy doo or something, but otherwise we don't even think about it!

docsage said...

Adios plastic bags! As to the paper towels . . . We use homemade crocheted dishcloths for most stuff, and also have some cut-up t-shirts left over from homemade baby wipes. The next round of shirts will be cut larger and should eliminate the need for the ubiquitous paper towel.

Good luck.

Penny Basket said...

i passed a copy of 'addicted to plastics' to my friends and they're starting to bring their own bags or at least refuse plastic bags if they can.
i have yet to face the 'problem' of running out of plastic bags, but we'll work on it!

Condo Blues said...

I ran into the same problem! I need some sort of bag to pick up after the dog. Paper doesn't quite work as well as plastic.

I also use them for our household trash. We fill approximately one plastic grocery bag full of trash a month.

I use the biodegrable bags when we are away from home. For walks and neigbhorhoold pick ups I use bread bags, frozen food bags, etc. I also put the word out to family that I will take their extra plastic grocery bags. I traded my mom my extra reusable bags for her hamper of plastic grocery bags.

Christi said...

It's great! I'm so glad to hear your life didn't end when your supply of plastic bags did. I wonder to myself from time to time, what did our grandparents do when they didn't have plastic bags. They simply didn't use them or need them! Way to go!

Debra said...

Responding to your last comment: I have been paper towel-free for over two years now, and I don't miss them at all. Now for the plastic bag part: I started using cloth bags over a year ago, I use reusable mesh bags for produce at the farmer's market(year-round in So. Cal.), I make my own bread and tortillas, and shy away from anything that comes in a plastic bag. The only bag like item that comes into the house is the toilet paper wrapper which I reuse as a trash can liner, and change it about one time per month, which is about how often my family of four uses 12 rolls. (The rest of the family is resistant to change to cloth wipes, but I am still working on them.)

Pure Mothers said...

I am curious why you need to dispose of a diaper into another piece of plastic to begin with. If there's poop, you dump it into the toilet, wrap the diaper back around itself and seal with the tabs. Same with pee. This works even if you don't line your trash bin. (we use a biodegradable bag because the city won't pick up our trash unless it's in a bag.) If it's a really leaky,messy diaper, can't you wrap it up in newspaper or something else biodegradable? Just wondering. Is it worse to put the diaper directly into the landfill?

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Pure Mothers - No it's not better to put diapers in a bag first - we do it to avoid stinkiness and because we put them directly in the outside trash can. But if we needed to, we could adapt to a different method. Your idea sounds pretty good. Plus I'm hoping I've only got six months or less of diapers in my future. My baby just turned two -time to potty train!

Mountain Knitter said...

After a year of not using plastic grocery bags I decided it was silly to use plastic produce and bulk item bags. I couldn't find any for sale that I liked so I made my own. I also found it silly to use plastic sandwich baggies...same problem...couldn't find ones for sale that I I designed my own. I now sell them to try to help others reduce their waste!

Congrats to you for making the switch away from paper and plastic! I've found that I always keep a few bags in each car and also a chico bag in my purse. And if I still forget to have a bag with me I just carry the item(s) in hand instead of a bag.

For the doggy do....have you thought about using bags that other foods come in - like cereal, bread, frozen veggies, etc? I have also seen compostable baggies made just for the cause.

I'm so glad to have stumbled upon this website!

Lisa Sharp said...

We still have plastic bags in the house because we are living with my in-laws who still have them. I used to give them to my mom for cat litter (she doesn't use plastic bags) now they just sit there.

To everyone that doesn't know what to do without the bags, ask around I'm guessing not all your friends use reusable bags, I'm sure they will give them to you. Bread bags, cereal bags, etc.. can also be used.

Kate said...

We had a similar "charge yourself" strategy for bags. 25 cents for every bag we bring home from the store, double if we forgot our cloth shopping bags.
I've gotten pretty creative at using them over but I still feel it's not enough most of the time. Recently I made some grocery bags for our veggies. The checkers charge us more because of the weight but it's not much. Besides, I'd rather pay a few pennies more and feel better about not using plastic.

My biggest conquest has been the "one-use items" paper items - napkins (easy fix), paper towels (a little harder), cotton balls (difficult), and TP ("Not going to happen" says hubby).

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Kate - I'm working on the one-use paper items now, and my husband is definitely on the same page as your husband about the TP.

Kale for Sale said...

Milk cartons also work great for leaky garbage. It's become a game to see what we can find to use for a garbage bag and it's always something that before would have gone into a trash bag itself. Thanks for writing about this.

rObrak said...

That's great! Well for me, if we really want to go green we can do it but if we think that we can't and its impossible, we'll really feel that its hopeless. But, I think being green is being practical. I know that there are different kinds of green stuffs online some are cheap while some are expensive. Buying these stuffs are way cheaper because we'll just have to spend once. Most of the eco-friendly products are long lasting so, buying these kind of things is very reliable. Plus, through these things we can help and support our environment. Like for example, the use of stainless steel containers than plastic bags or other plastic container that are not BPA-free. Stainless steels are said to be safer, convenient to use and flexible. So let's try it for a change too.


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