Thursday, January 10, 2008

"I don't need a bag for that!" (or, what China and I have in common)

What do China and I have in common?  We're both decreasing our use of plastic bags!

The big news from China yesterday is that they're banning the thinnest plastic bags altogether, and requiring that stores charge for thicker plastic bags rather than give them away for free.  They're one of many countries (and cities, like San Francisco) that have taken on this issue, either by banning the bags or imposing taxes; apparently in Ireland, the 15 cent per bag tax has led to a 90-95% decrease in plastic bag usage:

In Dingle's largest supermarket, the plastic bag levy has worked smoothly except for tourists who are sometimes upset at having to pay or find some other method to carry groceries, SuperValu store administrator Chris Norveil said. "Local people bring their own bags now; they use boxes, or they carry their shopping out to their cars," she said.  "There wasn't very much fuss after it was presented by the government as a way of saving the environment."

That's pretty awesome!  (If you want to read more about the serious problems with plastic bags, check out this article at

In the meantime, while neither my country nor my city is discouraging plastic bags at all, I'm working on it for myself anyway.  I'm trying to get better about bringing reusable bags to the grocery store-- although I get funny looks from the checker, and they often make me pack the bags myself.  (That's one reason I wish there was a ban or at least a tax, so I wouldn't get looked at like I'm crazy!)  And I'm proud of myself for how much plastic I avoided during the holiday season.  I kept forgetting to bring my tote bags with me-- but as we went from store to store and most of the time I bought only one or two items, I just kept asking myself if I really needed a plastic bag with my purchase, and the answer was almost always no.  I could carry a lot of it by hand (even if a little awkward sometimes), or stick it in a bag I'd gotten from somewhere else, or make an extra stop at the car to drop it off. 

And happily, I've noticed in the last couple weeks that the habit has stuck.  When I'm at a store and my purchase is ready to be bagged, I'm automatically thinking about the alternatives to using a plastic bag, and usually I can come up with one.  "That's okay, I don't need a bag for that" is becoming my new mantra!  I've become more conscious and intentional about what used to be an automatic acceptance of the plastic thrust at me, and I'm creating a little less waste now, which is pretty cool.  Admittedly, I will get even further when I remember to carry reusable bags around with me every time I'm shopping, so that I'm using the plastic bags never rather than rarely-- but this new approach means I don't have to give up when I realize I've forgotten again.

Do you try to avoid using plastic bags personally?  What are your successes, challenges, and tips?  And how about politically?  Are folks in your area talking about taxing or banning plastic bags?  Would you support a ban or a tax, even if it meant you'd be charged extra for bags if you didn't bring your own?  And if you live somewhere where it's already happened, do tell us how it's going!


marylandterps said...

I keep 6 canvas (reusable) bags in the trunk of my car. Then I always have them. When I unpack at home I hang them on the doorknob & thus remember to put them back in the car.

HC said...

I have a bunch of reusable grocery store bags now, but I sometimes forget to bring them along.

What made the *real* difference was switching to my standard winter bag, a fairly large tote. Now, for those little trips to CVS, the corner grocery store, and whatnot, I just use my purse.

I guess I'll have to find a big bag for the summer, too.

michelle said...

I've been using canvas grocery bags for a couple of years now, and like hc, I've started carrying a bigger tote bag to accommodate unexpected shopping errands. I do get sick of carrying a tote bag sometimes, though, so if I know I might be running errands I sometimes stick an old plastic bag into a smaller purse and use that instead.

bpt said...

I don't think virtue will get us very far here. People need to be charged, or gov't needs to regulate plastic bags.
There are compostable bags made from vegetable-based plastic, BTW. But if you don't compost them, obviously they don't break down.

Kristy said...

I've been using canvas bags for my groceries for some time now and the only problem I come across is the Baggers at the checkout lanes. About half of them have no problem packing everything in there nicely; but the other half gets frustrated and basically throw everything in the bag. I seriously had one girl roll her eyes at me and say "What am I supposed to do with this".

I wish more stores would step up and either charge for bags or at the very least limit the amount they handout to customers.

Anonymous said...

We just moved back to the US from South Africa, and in most places there, one must pay for plastic bags. It is fairly easy to re-use ones we already have, to use cloth bags, or carry things without a bag - simply a habit to get into. If we tax plastic bags, they will be seen as a resource and not just trash, and we will see them less on the roadsides as well!

Penny Nickel said...

marylandterps-- Doorknob! That's a great idea!

bpt-- Yeah, I agree. (But in the meantime I'll try to do the best I can on my own!)

kristy-- I know exactly what you mean with the eye-rolling, unfortunately.

pelf said...

I have a couple of cloth bags that I receive when attending conferences and seminars, and like most people, I keep a few in my car so that they are always available.

And yes, I have been refusing plastic bags for small and/or few items that I can carry in my hands and yes, I have received "the look" from many cashiers but I usually just say, "Plastic bags are a hazard to the environment."

Most cashiers would just keep quiet because opening their mouths would make them look stupid, LOL (though that's NOT my main intention).