We’ve all heard about the negative environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags. In the last fifty years, the United States has grown the use of plastic bags from zero to 372 million per day. While this an alarming reality, it also gives me great hope. It means huge changes are possible in a short period of time when we work collectively to put resources behind positive impactful choices and convince other people of the value those choices can have on the environment. Look at the plastic bag bans going into effect in major cities around the globe, for example!
As a designer, I've had to dig a little deeper to uncover the imperfections in the most obvious choices for bag materials. Single-use paper bags require deforestation and fossil fuels in their manufacture and transport before they get to us. The production and use of the now ubiquitous cotton tote has pitfalls as well as cotton is a 'dirty' crop needing a lot of water and insecticides. And let's face it, lots of bags aren’t designed very well for repeated and long term use!
But we can do better! Join me by trying out the following four alternatives and spread the word that there are better choices than plastic.
Here are four ways to take action today:
1- Invest in three or four well designed linen, hemp or vintage fabric bags (like ours) that will hold a lot of groceries. Look for bags that are easily laundered, sturdy, and that will last you for years. Use your bags every time you shop. When they are no longer usable, compost them in your garden or re-purpose them as rags.
2- Use your current totes (cotton or otherwise) until they fall apart or use them for smaller bulk items or vegetables at the store. Patch them up and use them some more. Or if you really hate them or they are too small for functional carrying, cut them up and use them for other things around the house.
3- If you forget your favorite fabric bags, ask for a used cardboard box at the grocery store and use that instead of a single-use paper or plastic bag. Check with a staff member who might be stocking shelves as you shop or look for a stack of boxes designated for customer use. When you have a choice use paper bags, which you can more easily compost.
4- Make a point to pick up discarded plastic bags you might see on the street, in your yard, on the beach, or caught in the trees before they end up in the waterways or oceans. Many plastic bags can be recycled at your local stores - do some research to find out where to recycle plastic film bags in your area!
In a few short decades we’ll be able to say that in less than 50 years we helped reduce the use of plastic bags from 372 million per day back to zero and avoided the unintended negative environmental consequences of single-use plastics through education and thoughtful planning.
We got this!