Despite my zeal for reusable bags, I know getting plastic bags every now and then is a necessary evil. Sometimes I forget my reusable bags or I don’t bring enough to hold everything I buy. Luckily, there are ways to rise to the occasion and reduce your plastic footprint.
At the grocery store
One way to reduce plastic bag usage is to use as few bags as possible. That sounds pretty obvious, but some baggers seem like they’re competing to see how few items that can justify double-bagging. Mention your superhuman bicep strength and tell them to put as much in the bags as it can carry without breaking. If you do have to double-bag, put a ton of light stuff in there – don’t let all that space go to waste just for a two-liter of soda or a six-pack of beer.
I also try to avoid bags altogether when I can. If I’m just buying one or two small things, I put them in my pocket or my purse. Things like gallons of milk come with a handle, so if I’m heading straight to the car, I’ll just carry it by itself.
Some people circumvent the plastic problem by getting a paper bag. However, paper isn’t that great of an alternative. Since paper bags weigh so much more, it takes more trucks and more fuel to bring the same amount of paper bags to the store as it does for plastic bags. Also, those handles seem to break every time I take the bags out of the trunk.
Sometimes, when I go to the grocery store and realize I’ve forgotten my reusable bags, I “punish” myself by getting a new one. Then it gets added to my ever-growing collection, and the little extra budget hit helps me to remember to bring them next time.
At the mall
The bags at the mall are the worst offenders as far as environment-busters are concerned: they use tons of ink and chemicals to get so shiny and colorful, and to make matters worse, it seems like every salesperson is intent on wrapping every little purchase in dyed tissue paper. I have a few methods of forgoing armloads of bags if I forget my reusable ones.
One way is to limit the number of bags you end up with. After the first store I go to, I often have tons of space left in the bag. So at the next place I go, I tell them I don’t need a bag, and just toss my new goodies into the first one. I also ask the cashier not to wrap everything in tissue.
If I buy small things – lipstick, jewelry, etc – I squeeze them into my purse.
Once you get home
After you unload the trunk, there’s more you can do to nix the effects of getting new bags. Plastic bags make perfect mini-trash-can liners – exactly the right size for the bathroom garbage. I also keep one in the seat pocket in my backseat for travel-incurred trash. And I put one in my gym bag to hold my sweaty post-workout clothes. Plastic bags also pinch-hit for me when I run out of biodegradable doggie bags.
When I pack for a trip, I wrap any liquids I’m bringing in plastic bags. Buying new clothes to replace ones covered in spilled sunscreen is neither budget- nor earth-friendly Zip-loc bags are more secure, but I like knowing that I’m reusing plastic bags instead of busting out new ones. Tie them in a knot and you’re set to go. I also keep one in my suitcase pocket to stash dirty clothes in ‘til I get back to a washing machine.
When I get paper bags, I save them for when my recycling bin is overflowing. The handles make them easy to carry down to the building recycling bins, and since they’re paper, I can toss the whole thing at once.
Despite their environmental drawbacks, department store bags are usually sturdier than normal plastic ones. I add them to my collection of reusable bags and can get at least three or four more uses out of them. I also use them for when I put old clothes in the charity bin – that way I don’t waste a garbage bag. The smaller ones make cute gift bags (and if you friend thinks her present is from Bloomingdale’s, all the better). This is also a good way of reusing tissue from your purchases.
So the next time you end up with a handful of plastic bags, remember that although they aren’t technically reusable, they don’t have to be one-time-only either.