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Reducing the use of plastic bags is probably the best and easiest way to start reducing your plastic waste.
In this article, I will give you 6 creative and easy ideas for reducing the use of plastic bags, a few facts, and I will cover a couple of essential questions.
Let’s jump right in.
Here are 6 practical ways to reduce the use of plastic bags:
- Use reusable bags when shopping
- Reuse old plastic bags
- Reuse a box from the shop
- Refuse plastic bags and go bagless
- Re-purpose plastic bags for trash liners or DIY a reusable bag
- Support plastic ban legislations & petitions
Let’s look at each idea more in-depth!
1. Use reusable bags when shopping
Use what you already have – any reusable tote bag, paper bag, backpack, or even old plastic bag.
They are made from old denim jeans and are very study. You can find different sizes, models, and shapes, ideal for grocery shopping! (Disclaimer: Those upcycled denim bags are made by my awesome grandma.)
Next, you can get reusable veggie bags instead of using single-use plastic ones.
Many supermarkets now also sell those next to the veggie section. If you can’t find them, you can get them online for very affordable prices.
While this solution is quite simple, sometimes, it can be challenging to remember to take the reusable bags with you.
A few tips that can help you to build a habit of bringing your reusable bags are:
- Put it in a visible place near your front door – You can hang the bag on the doorknob.
- Get a small foldable bag designed to fit your key chain – In that way, you will always have a bag on hand.
- If you have a car, keep 1-2 bags inside – If you go to the shop unprepared, you can bring the trolley to your vehicle and use your reusable bags for the items you bought.
- Put an essential item in your reusable bag – This can be your keys, phone, purse, etc. By doing that, you will be most likely to remember to take the bag with you.
- If you write grocery lists, write “Bring bags” on top as the first item on your list.
- Bring a few reusable & produce bags with you – Often, you might end up needing more than one.
2. Reuse old plastic bags
Plastic bags are wasteful if you use them as a single-use item. If you find yourself full of plastic bags, the best thing you can do is reuse them.
Next time you visit the store, take them with you and keep using them until they are in good shape.
Reuse them as long as you can. Once they are no longer usable, the only remaining option is to recycle them.
The most accessible places to recycle plastic bags are supermarkets and grocery stores near you. A lot of them provide plastic bag recycling bins.
If this option isn’t available for you, do a quick online search, ask friends and local Facebook groups, and find the closest available drop-off recycling collection bins.
3. Reuse a box from the shop
This is a great alternative, especially if you go to the shop without a reusable bag.
Grocery stores and other shops get a lot of items delivered in paper boxes. So, you can roam around the shop and look for empty containers. There are almost always a few in the veggie section.
If you can’t find any, ask the staff for one. They often have a lot and won’t mind giving you one. I did that once, and it was very easy to find an empty box in the store.
4. Refuse plastic bags and go bagless
This is very self-explanatory – say no to a plastic bag, and go bagless. Of course, this won’t be possible if you bought many items, but it is a great idea for easy-to-carry purchases.
5. Repurpose plastic bags for trash liners or DIY a reusable bag
If none of the options works for you, you can get a single-use bag and then find ways to repurpose it and extend its use. That can be by:
- Repurposing the bag as a trash liner or pet waste bag.
- DIY-ing a sturdy reusable bag from single-use plastic baggies – a simple yet fantastic idea. All you need is a few plastic bags, an iron, and a sheet of baking paper. I got this idea from my favorite YouTube channel, Precious Plastic. Follow their tutorial:
6. Support plastic ban legislations & petitions
While it is great that various legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, will take a while until we stop seeing them everywhere.
Until then, it is crucial to support local, regional, and national legislation and petitions, to ban further plastic bag use.
You can do that by supporting various legislations, petitions, and bans like:
- The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021
- Ban the bag | Surfrider Foundation Europe
- End Plastic Pollution – Earth Day
- Petition to End The Plastic Disaster
- WWF Panda Stop Plastic Pollution Petition
- Stop Plastic Pollution Green Peace Petition
- Plastic bag bans petitions on Change.org
Depending on where you live, you can do a quick online search to find and see how to support local legislation and petitions.
5 (not that) fun facts about plastic bags:
- Worldwide, more than 500 billion plastic bags are used yearly (nearly 1 million bags per minute). (1)
- A plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to photo-degrade in a landfill.
- Plastic bags don’t break down completely – they become microplastics that leach toxins, harmful to you, the wildlife, and the environment. (1)
- Plastic bags are among the 10 most common waste found in coastal clean-ups.
- Each year, thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals, and other marine animals die because of plastic entanglement or plastic ingestion. (1)
Why should we reduce the use of plastic bags?
We should reduce the use of plastic bags because we use a lot of energy and non-renewable resources to make a single-use product, that on average, we use for less than 20 minutes.
Most bags are thrown out, and less than 1 percent are recycled. (1)
Plastic bags are light and can easily travel long distances. Unfortunately, that makes them a massive contributor to environmental pollution and danger to wildlife.
Also, they often contain harmful chemical additives associated with endocrine disruptors, birth defects, immune system suppression, etc. (1)
While the single-use plastic bans and restrictions are positive actions, they are not enough. This is because:
- A lot of countries have no restrictions on plastic bag manufacturing/production.
- Many countries favor partial bans over full bans. Partial bans may include requirements on bags’ thickness or composition.
- Countries fail to regulate plastic through its lifecycle.
That’s why consumers, like you and me, need to use better alternatives and reduce the use of plastic bags.
Are biodegradable plastic bags better?
Don’t be fooled by “biodegradable” plastic bags. An item can’t be sustainable when it is designed for single use.
The truth is that biodegradable bags require a lot of energy and other resources that are not always renewable.
Most biodegradable plastics are made from traditional petrochemicals but are designed to break down faster.
The breakdown is reliant on temperature and humidity. If it ends up in a landfill, it will get buried, and the breakdown process will stop.
Additionally, the waste management infrastructure in most places is not suitable for biodegradable plastics.
Mixing biodegradable plastics with regular waste can cause problems, too; it is easy to mix them up since they look and feel very much like standard plastic.
Related post: What is a biodegradable plastic made of?
Paper bags vs. plastic bags – which one is better?
There is a common belief that paper bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags.
Even though paper bags sound like the perfect sustainable alternative, they are not a “green” option.
This is because to produce paper bags:
- it takes twice the energy used to provide a plastic bag
- it requires much more water than the manufacture of plastic
- it makes more greenhouse gases
- they can’t break down properly if they end up in a landfill
A benefit is that paper bags can be easily recycled or composted after they serve their purpose.
This makes them less harmful to the environment, but this is only if the paper bag doesn’t end up in a landfill.
If paper ends up in a landfill, it usually gets buried with a lot of waste. It starts breaking down in an anaerobic process (without oxygen) instead of an aerobic (with oxygen). (1)
This produces methane gas – a hazardous greenhouse gas. That’s why it is always best to reuse whatever you already have, and if it is a single-use plastic or paper bag – dispose of it correctly when they are no longer usable.
To learn more about the impact of different bags – check out this super interesting & short video: