Thursday, April 20, 2017

Save Those Bags, Help Save the Earth

Earth Day is coming up, again offering an opportunity to reflect on the role each of us can play in protecting and improving our environment.

The "Three R's"--Reduce, Reuse, Recycle--continue to be good general guides for positive things individuals can do. With spring and Earth Day coming on, I've been conducting a small, unscientific survey of one action that helps with two of the three R's. Bringing one's own shopping bags to the supermarket reduces reliance on plastic or paper bags, and fabric bags are reusable.

In my little survey I asked three veteran checkouts to estimate how many people bring their own
Reuse and Reduce
fabric bags. Somewhat surprisingly, the answers were identical--40 percent. That seems a poor performance considering widespread publicity for many years on problems with plastic waste in the environment and the often-repeated assertion that conserving paper saves trees. (Although the tree-saving idea is questionable, it is appealing).

Fabric shopping bags are easy to find. Both major supermarkets we visit display them prominently. One charges 99 cents for a bag, the other only 50 cents. In addition, one of the markets offers a 5 cent per bag discount every time you provide your own bags at checkout. In other parts of the country, some supermarkets provide free bags to promote use.

My checkout contacts offered two major reasons customers say they don't bring their own bags. They are (with my comments):

1. I tried using them, but forgot to bring them to the store so often I just gave up. Solution: Keep four or five extra bags in your vehicle's trunk. If you get all the way into the store before your light bulb flashes on, the brief round-trip back to the parking lot for bags will be just a bit of healthy exercise.

2. You have to wash them regularly. Not so: We have a few fabric bags we've used for more than 10 years and they still are clean. Items such as fresh meats and veggies that could cause sanitation problems will not if they are separately wrapped or bagged as you pick them up or you request extra wrapping at checkout.

Two of the three checkouts I contacted said they wished more customers would bring their own bags. Amen. Check here around next Earth Day to see if my follow-up survey shows any improvement.


Celia said...

My bags are under the front seat. I usually remember them. My most frequently visited grocery has a bin to recycle plastic bags.

Rummuser said...

Most of our shopping is done for home delivery and there is rarely ever any need to recycle. On the odd occasion that we have to shop for emergency supplies, we take a cloth bag that can be slung over a shoulder. This is kept just below the bowl in which the keys are kept and so it is rare that we forget to take that.

Incidentally, plastic bags are banned where we live.

PiedType said...

I confess I still use the plastic bags. But the store takes them back for recycling, so I don't feel too bad about it. Every single one goes back for recycling. I tried cloth bags briefly, but never remembered to take them to the store. I do bristle whenever I see a plastic bag blowing down the street. No excuse for that. Some Colorado cities already ban plastic bags and/or charge as much as 20 cents per bag for any disposable bag you use.

Kay said...

My bags are on the back seat. I also carry two folded bags that hang from my small back pack whenever we're out. Works out great. I think a lot of people are willing to pay 10 cents for the plastic bag, I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Strange, but when I remember shopping in the USA back in 1970's it was brown paper bags. Often someone was on hand to fill them and even carry them out to your car. So much for progress.

Mona McGinnis said...

I use a plastic bin from a supermarket that measures 9(H)x18(L)x12(w)inches. It's amazing what that bin can hold. Not only is it environmentally friendly but there are fewer trips from the car to the house. I recently heard of the 5 R's; add refuse and rot to the 3 R's of reduce, reuse, recycle. So refuse the plastic bags and wrapping, allow organics to rot for compost.

Dick Klade said...

John: One of the two supermarkets we visit still has employees assigned to carry bags out to cars. And a large sign advises "No Tipping" for the service. Until very recently, most stores offered a "paper or plastic" bag choice. Probably for the wrong reasons, the paper choice seems to be disappearing. Almost all paper manufactured in the U.S. is made from waste wood, waste paper, and small-diameter trees that were planted for the purpose. Thus, saving trees by reducing paper use is not the simple truism presented to the public.

Dick Klade said...

Several really good ideas here in the comments. Celia's comment that stores bags under the car seat is a handy alternative to keeping them in the trunk. Mona's use of a bin rather than several bags is an approach I've not heard of previously. We'll think about adopting that one.

joared said...

We've used cloth bags at stores in our California Los Angeles Country area for several years -- have to pay for paper bags at a couple grocery markets, another chain charges for a large plastic bag though all other plastic bags can be used. My car doors have pockets, so I keep my cloth bags folded in there, readily available.