Minimizing the Use of Plastic Grocery Bags

Most people make their life goal changes and resolutions for improvement in January, but I like to wait until April when my soul comes alive with anticipation for the bright, colorful months ahead. The opportunity to celebrate another Earth Day—a day I only half-jokingly profess as the most important day of the year—is the perfect time for setting new “green” goals and getting creative with how I can cultivate a greater Earth-consciousness in my daily routines.

A change I’ve wanted for several years without success is to eliminate the plastic grocery bag. It seems so simple, yet time and time again, I walk out of the store with ten more grocery bags to stuff in the already overflowing collection in the kitchen. I leave the store feeling guilty and thinking, “You know better than this. Get yourself some reusable bags and don’t go to the store without them.” But then I get home and don’t think of my advice to myself again until I’m in the checkout lanes again.

I’m needing a little push in the right direction. A surefire way to motivate myself toward any environmental change is taking a look at facts. A reminder of just how terrible a practice is for Mother Earth is the perfect spark to get my fire for environmental stewardship burning again. Naturally, what I found was heart wrenching.

It is estimated that 100 billion plastic bags are used for shopping in the U.S. each year. This costs some $4 billion for retailers to have their names placed on bags so we might become walking advertisements. Only between 1 and 3% of those consumed are recycled. And for the most part, my grocery bags end up in the trash acting as small trash bags themselves.

Furthermore, plastic bags are derived from petroleum products. This means their production causes air pollution and uses energy that could be focused elsewhere. The polyethylene used to create these convenient shopping pals likes to stick around long after their convenience is spent. For polyethylene to break down we must wait 1000 years. But even then, plastic bags aren’t completely gone. This is because they photodegrade instead of biodegrading. They breakdown smaller and smaller until their tiny, toxic bits spread through soil and waterways waiting for an unknowing creator to ingest it.

Often plastic bags cause problems for animals before even reaching the tiny, broken-down, toxic bit stage. Somewhere close to a million seabirds and mammals die from ingesting plastic bags or the bags wrap around their intestines leading to a miserably painful death.

I can’t seem to let go of that image—an animal dying from the inside out because I needed the convenience of a plastic bag to carry my consumer goods home. I won’t shift the percentage alone, but that won’t stop me from joining the only 5% of U.S. shoppers who use reusable shopping bags. Maybe the self-reminding research will encourage you, too.

There are plenty of ways to get your hands on some reusable grocery bags. I found some lovely ones here. You could also pick some up in the grocery store or make your own from old T-Shirts or other materials. However you go about it, be sure to enjoy the feeling of “less” you are creating. Less plastic bag waste. Less energy used to create them. Fewer animals suffering a harsh, unnatural end to life. And less cluttered up grocery bags in your home. Sounds like a major gain for me!