Plastic bags are a way of life. Growing up, I would run errands with my mom, and we’d come home with a trunk full of packed plastic bags. Everywhere you went, your pack of gum or greeting card were carefully ferried home in their own protective plasticized sheath.
It seemed like the good times would never end. Unfortunately, we now know the unfortunate side effects of our plastic habit. When you get plastic bags from the grocery store, the amount of petroleum it takes to make those bags is enough to fuel your car for the drive home. In addition to languishing in landfills, the bags end up floating in the ocean, clogging drains and pipes in the sewer system, or attached to an unreachable tree branch a foot away from your bedroom window. Paper bags can decompose, but it still takes a lot of energy to produce them, not to mention the chemicals that go into the ink and the handle glue. And since they’re heavier than plastic bags, it takes more fuel than to transport the same number of plastic bags to retailers. Basically, bags are bad.
That’s why I love reusable bags. Once the province of aging hippies, reusable bags now come in a startling variety of sizes, colors and materials. My favorite is the kind that folds up into a little bag of its own. It’s about the size of a tennis ball but unfolds into a regular-sized shopping bag. I toss one of two in my purse in case of an impromptu purchase (that Diet Coke isn’t going to carry itself).
Now that they’re getting so popular, reusable bags are available everywhere. They’ve been at grocery and drug stores for a while, but now most clothing stores carry at least one fashionable alternative to plastic. For Christmas, I got my earth-conscious sister a metallic foldable reusable bag from Donna Karan. I have a large cloth one from the Gap that I use all the time.
At first, it can be hard to remember to bring the bags with you. It kind of defeats the purpose of buying a bunch of reusable bags if they’re just going to end up stacked in your closet. I like to take a bunch of them and put them all into one big reusable bag (that’s meta-recycling right there) and leave them in my backseat. That way I have them for the grocery store. And like I said, I usually keep a small one in my purse. If I go to the grocery store with my roommate, I’ll let him use some of my bags instead of getting plastic (he does not share my fervor for earth-saving).
Some stores are starting to reward us do-gooders. At Target, you get five cents back for every reusable bag you bring. At CVS, you can get a $1 tag that you attach to your bag. It gets you 25 cents back every time you bring it back to CVS and scan it. At Ralph’s, you get five rewards points for every bag you bring, and once you get enough points, they send you a gift certificate for (what else?) more groceries.