Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dump the Habit, Not the Bag

Shredded cheese bags, bread bags, and bagel bags. Sugar bags, sandwich bags, and cereal bags. Toilet paper bags, the occasional paper towel bag... even the trash bags come in bags. Is seems to me that there's more attention in America to remove the bags under our eye's than there is to remove bags from the landfill. I feel like I’m drowning in bags!

I’ve developed a pet peeve as of late. It centers around a very simple thing that anyone can change if they just stopped for a second and actually thought about what they were doing before continuing on. In the last few years some U.S. cities (San Francisco being the first in 2007) have banned single use plastic bags at grocery checkout stands. It appears the state of California as a whole is about to pass a bill that will ban plastic bags in grocery stores and will institute a 5 cent fee on every paper bag used – hopefully greatly reducing the amount taken out of the store. Of course there are differing arguments about the pros and cons of a bill such as this, but in general I am all for it. I would love to see more states joining this bandwagon. Are you listening, Texas?

But there is something in the same realm that you don’t hear about as much – what about the plastic bags you put in the plastic grocery store bags??? I’m talking about the bags people put their produce in so it can be counted and/or weighed. I’ve developed a kind of rule for myself that if a cashier can pick up a single variety of fruit or veggie in two hands or less, it does not go into a bag. For example, a cashier can usually pick up 4-5 apples easily (2 or 3 in each hand) and place them on the scale at the same time without difficulty. Yes, it does take me 5 seconds longer to group like items on the conveyor belt; and yes, this does mean that I have loose fruit or vegetables at the bottom of my cart (the horror!), but that is a small price to pay for not having the privilege of bringing yet another plastic bag into my home.

I am not saying I never use a produce bag. I might put a wet head of lettuce in one (though in reality the outer leaves could be taken off and composted if you were worried that much about bacteria or the like). Delicate items like mushrooms or grapes, for example, probably need to be contained in some way. I also bag up things like oranges when they are on sale 20 for $1 (not an uncommon price around here!) – but I put them in 1 or 2 bags – not 5 or 6. You truly do not need produce bags for most items, especially those that grow with their own protective covering which will be discarded (composted!) anyway – and specifically when you are only buying one or two. I am routinely amazed at the number of people I see actually bagging a bunch of bananas. Even before we were on this sustainable journey it never even crossed my mind to do this. Perhaps it is a Texas thing? Rest assured, when those bagless bananas get to your house they will be just as sweet as they would have been in a bag for the 15 minute ride home.

So I say all that to say this: Be conscious of your consumption and try to lessen it. This should be true of many things in life. If you must use produce bags, try to reuse them when you can. They will last for numerous shopping trips. Pack them in your reusable bag on your way out the door. You could even purchase (or make) reusable, thin muslin bags for this purpose (a la No Impact Man). I just found a website called that has every type of reusable bag your little heart has ever desired. Seriously take stock for the next week or month of how many bags you have saved from a landfill by implementing some of the ideas above. I will do the same and promise to get back to you one month from today. – Carrie


  1. Regarding Texas: I would suspect that the petroleum companies in Texas, and their subcontractors, consultants, and engineering firms would not be too keen on the banning of a product reliant upon hydrocarbons for its manufacture. ;-)

  2. Good post Carrie. Obviously the "but they can be recycled" ploy isn't working very well. I've thought about those produce bags and try to do the same as you. My pet peeve though, is that the single use plastic bags have become so flimsy (manufacturer trying to save money???) that check-out clerks often end up double bagging heavier items like cans and 5 lb bags of flour. A lot of things I ask them not to bag, like gallon items of milk or vinegar, or bags of apples or grapefruit. Bringing my own reusable bags is the best solution though.

    Oh, and I like your new blog look!

  3. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 1, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    Karen - So true. But I guess we've got to start somewhere, right? In theory, if people actually stopped using plastic bags at the stores there would be little reason for them to be manufactured. I'd like to think that if one state bans them, it will probably only be a matter of time before they all do.

    Leigh - You know that if I don't like the single bagging, I can't stand the double-bagging! But now that on pretty much every trip we use larger canvas bags it hasn't been much of an issue recently. That doesn't mean that they aren't double bagging for almost every other person that walks in the store though.
    And thanks for the new look shout-out! We still have other things we want to do, just slowly working on learning Blogger and figuring out how to get it all done.

  4. A new article in our local paper noted that reusable bags are much higher in germ contamination than plastic. We must be sure to wash them in hot water regularly and, of course, keep meat (if that is your persuasion) and veggie bags separate.

    Check out your local SPCA for recycling newspapers, shredded paper, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, and newspaper plastic bags. Here in VA they also collect soda cans to raise money for animal care.

  5. What Pigs Don't KnowJuly 2, 2010 at 8:15 PM

    Thanks, Mom! Those are good tips! I've NEVER washed my canvas bags, which now that I think about it is pretty gross. I will get on that tomorrow for sure. -Carrie