Friday in Focus: Reusable Bags

I don't know about you, but for me, Fridays usually end up being my lowest day of the week.  During the weekend, I work up as much excitement and enthusiasm as I can and store it in a motivational camel's hump to keep me going throughout the week. But by Friday, that sucker is bone dry. So, I think I'm going to try a new Friday writing series. Using last week as a jumping off point, I want to use this day to reflect on the changes that I've made in my life up to this point. A check-in to see how that particular choice is working for me and to see if my reasoning behind it still holds true.  In the beginning, my decision to live a mindful life was motivated to make all of my choices actively. For far too long I've floated from day to day and week to week and just let whatever happened...happen. To a certain degree, I think this left me open to experience some really wonderful opportunities, but I also think that it closed me off from demonstrating my values in my day-to-day life and it also kept me from achieving any real substantial goals.

So, this Friday, I think we'll start where I started about two years ago: using reusable bags. This action is on the standard list of five things that everyone can do to lower their environmental impact. I have to admit, I dragged my feet on getting started. I bought my first reusable bag (one of those cheap-o ones from the grocery store) because one of my grad school friends had one and told me that it was something that I should do. At the time, my grocery shopping routine included one big trip to the store every week to get the basics and then daily trips to get produce and meat for that particular day (there were no menus or anything like that yet...we just decided what we wanted to eat day-by-day and the selection of things that we made was very very small; there were lots of frozen pizzas). For the first 4 months or so that I had it, I almost never used it. I'd always forget it at home and I just didn't want to put the effort into remembering.

Then I moved back to Iowa, bought a house, and got married. The combination of these three life changes really...well...changed me. For the first time I was settling into place. We were putting down roots and hoping to build a community.  It was then that I really started to ask myself, "what are you doing?" Not in some abstract way, but in a very concrete what-am-I-doing-right-now-and-why sort of a way. I had always saved my plastic grocery sacks and reused them, either as small garbage can liners or to cart stuff around, but inevitably, the bag of bags that lived under my kitchen sink outgrew my ability to reuse them and every year I ended up throwing away a huge ball of plastic bags. So I just decided to stop.

I bought several more of the cheap-o bags and made it a priority to remember them. Once they were emptied after being brought into the house, they were returned to the same spot by the door so that I would remember to take them back out to the car. I made rules for myself and (here's the key) I followed them. If I was in a store and had forgotten a bag, I didn't allow myself to accept a disposable bag. The only options I allowed myself were to either carry all of my items out to my car (which I still do often) or to buy another bag in which to put my items. And it worked. So much about making big life changes is about starting small and changing habits. But, you can't change habits unless you are committed to that change.

Later on down the road, as my values and priorities were developing and evolving, it became important for me to find and use bags that were made out of natural materials. My cheap-o bags, although they've held up for the year and a half that I've had them, are made of plastic and ultimately will end up in a landfill where they will never break down. They will still be here long after even my grandchildren are dead and gone. Also, it was becoming increasingly important to me to support local businesses. Again, my cheap-o bags held my stuff nicely, but I had absolutely no idea how they were made, where, or by whom. For me, the best option were bags from Cart by Cart. While the bags themselves aren't local, they are made in the USA. They are 100% cotton (although, not organic) and are unbleached. And, best of all, the small company that screen prints them is owned and operated by a woman right in my hometown. I have three of these bags, I love them and they're what I use every week for groceries. I love that they're big and roomy. The handles are strong and are long enough that I can carry them over my shoulder, meaning I can single-handedly carry a week's worth of groceries to my car by myself.

So how is this working for me? Wonderfully. Of all the changes I've made, this has been the most successful. I would say that I started using bags religiously about a year ago and in that year I have accepted two plastic bags from stores. This is 150% times less than the 300 bags the average American takes home and throws away every year. This tally doesn't include bags accepted by my husband. While he supports this change and uses the bags when he remembers, he doesn't do enough shopping to get him in the habit of taking a reusable bag with him. But he will make the occasional stop on the way home to get an item we're out of or he will pick up things from stores like Best Buy. So, plastic bags still are finding their way into my life. I recently put a basket to hold all the bags by the back door to increase the likelihood that both of us will remember to take them with us. I think I need to help him out and take this one step further by putting a couple bags in his car and then replacing them when he uses them.

Does this change still fit in with how I want to live my life? Most definitely. Choosing these bags is in line with my two top goals of living low impact and buying local. According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans use hundreds of billions of plastic bags every single year and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to make that many bags. I think there are far better uses for that much oil, don't you? I think everyone needs to get on this train. It's easy, cheap, and beneficial for everyone. I'm even for the bans on plastic bags that some US cites (like San Francisco) and countries around the world (like Ireland) are instating. In New York City alone, one less grocery bag per person per year would reduce waste by 109 tons and save $11,000 in disposal costs. That's taxpayer money going for what? To pay for me to have the convenience of getting a new bag every time so that I can then throw it away? I think there are far better things that our money could be spent on.

What about you? Have you made the switch to reusable bags? How is it going?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Our Farmers Market Board is looking for a source for our bags that we give to members - I'm definitely passing along your link to Cart by Cart. My husband and I used to be so good about reusable bags, but we have gotten out of the habit of keeping them in the car - which is where they have to be if we're going to remember to grab them! Check out this site: I did a post about it with links to DIY bag tutorials a little while back and just got my door sticker reminder thingy this week.