Learning how to avoid plastic at all cost has become a hot button topic in society today. More and more each day, consumers are looking for ways to offset their plastic use and lean towards more sustainable and ethically minded alternatives. In recent years, there have been bans on plastic bags in about 150 California cities and counties, and another 150 places across the U.S. have outlawed them or require shoppers to pay fees to get them. Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide, and more than a million bags are used every minute. In the United States, Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year and the average household takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year. With the average use time of these bags being a mere 12 -15 minutes it’s easy to see why finding reusable options is not only environmentally sound but plainly makes the most sense.
Before making the switch for an eco-friendlier and sustainable option, it’s important to note that not all bags are created equally. There are a few things to consider when looking for a plastic bag alternative.
- How is the bag produced?
- How many times will it be used?
- How to dispose of it if necessary?
To help you make the best choice in plastic bag alternatives, here is a breakdown on reusable shopping bag options.
Burlap or Jute bags are the most sustainable alternative to single-use plastic bags. They are made from the Jute plant which is 2nd in production next to cotton and is one of the most affordable natural fibers. Jute is a type of vegetable fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong thread. It is also a rain-fed crop with little need for pesticide or fertilizers. These bags are also durable and naturally biodegradable just make sure to chose one without a plastic lining on the inside.
Canvas tote bags
Probably the most popular option for reusable bags, canvas bags are made from 100% cotton so it’s naturally biodegradable, durable and extremely reusable. The downside is cotton production requires a lot of water and energy, so these bags require a lot of resources to produce. A canvas bag will need to be used thousands of times before they meet the environmental performance of plastic bags. Because of their durability and multi-purpose use, they still make for a good alternative to single-use plastic bags.
Polypropylene “Green” bag
Made from heavy-duty non-woven/woven polypropylene sourced from recycled plastic, green bags are commonly found in grocery stores and are an easy to find plastic bag alternative. They don’t take much energy to produce however, because it’s plastic, they can break down into microplastic once they begin to wear.
Paper bags without a doubt is still a better alternative to plastic bags. They break down easily and can be recycled or composted. They are best when made from recycled paper and printed with environmentally friendly dyes. Some grocery stores still offer them as an option at checkout, but they are only good for reuse once or twice and they’re not very durable.
Heavy-duty plastic bags
As a last-ditch alternative, some stores which have banned single-use plastic bags now sell heavy-duty plastic bags to customers who forget their reusable bags. The issue with these types of bags is they usually don’t get reused, it takes more energy to produce them, and since their made from a heavier form of plastic it takes even longer to break down which creates more micro-plastics.
Tips to help you remember to use your reusable bag
- Write “bring reusable bag” as the 1st item on your shopping list
- Keep reusable bags in your car, desk drawer at work or any other common areas
- Hang them on doors or other entryways to remind you to use them
- Refuse plastic bags for takeout orders and items already securely packaged.
- Don’t forget your hands are also great carrying tool! Sometimes you simply don’t need a bag
At first, it won’t be easy to adopt some of these changes, but the easiest thing you can do is to simply refuse single-use bags whenever possible. Once you get into the habit of using reusable bags, it will become second nature to bring them along with you every time you’re out and about.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Let me know in the comments what your go-to reusable bag alternative is and how this switch has impacted your life.