Plastic bags are a huge strain on our environment, yet manufacturers continue to make them.
Millions of tons of plastic end up in our landfills, forests, and oceans every single year. While some countries are taking huge steps to ban the use of plastic bags entirely, most companies still produce a lot of plastic waste.
One step in the right direction toward a healthier environment is convincing corporations that we don’t want their plastic – and that starts with finding great alternatives to single-use plastic bags.
We’ve compiled a helpful guide to going green and using alternatives to plastic bags:
A History of Plastic Bags
Meant to replace paper sacks at grocery marts, a Swedish manufacturer in the 1960s created the first plastic bag invented by Sten Gustaf Thulin.
Thulin’s plastic bags were made of high-density polyethylene material that was both durable and lightweight.
Since their introduction into the civilian culture, plastic bags quickly replaced paper and cloth bags.
They were cheap to make and considered sanitary, lightweight, and efficient. Soon, you wouldn’t be able to go shopping without being asked, “paper or plastic?”
Eventually, plastic became the norm, leading to the great lasting environmental damage we see today.
Since their creation, billions of tons of plastic waste are now sitting in our planet’s landfills, oceans, forests, and even deserts.
How Plastic Bags Harm the Environment
Although plastic bags’ durability is considered a huge benefit for carrying grocery bags, the difficulty here is how long-lasting these bags are.
As soon as you tear a small hole in your grocery bag, it gets thrown away. It then sits in a landfill or enters the natural ecosystem.
The problem here is that plastic bags take a very long time to break down and decompose.
Because they are made of highly concentrated plastic materials, they take about 500-1,000 years to disappear in nature.
That means more time for an animal to get harmed by the plastic or for it to sit in a park, in the ocean, or in a front yard.
“We are producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year, and some reports indicate that up to 50% of that is for single-use purposes – utilized for just a few moments…”
Even with millions of tons of plastic bags being made, most only receive about ten to twenty minutes of use – or the time it takes to bag your groceries and drive home from the store.
Most of the time, they will throw them away in their trash, adding to the harmful devastation of our planet’s natural resources.
How to Start Thinking Green
A great way to start going green is to recycle your plastic bags.
Most people don’t know that plastic bags are entirely recyclable. Special locations were created to recycle plastic bags, but most people don’t know where they are.
Some grocery stores and retail chains will allow you to recycle your bags there, but not all locations do.
For example, Kohl’s, Target, and Walmart are some locations where you can try to recycle your bags, but other major retailers might not.
Make sure to call ahead and find out where you can recycle your plastic bags.
Luckily, corporations like Whole Foods and IKEA are working toward banning plastic bags entirely.
This move to ban plastic bags is already a popular law in Europe and is a huge part of reducing the waste we create. Buying from these stores is a great way to show them that you care about their green initiatives.
When you shop at stores with greener goals than other corporations, you send messages to those higher-waste stores that your money is reserved for helping the planet – even just a little bit at a time.
That can help change the business practices of those companies and move more manufacturers toward greener ideals.
Doing your research helps ensure that where you shop will be beneficial for your wallet and the environment.
7 Alternatives to Plastic Bags:
There are a lot of great reusable bag options out there.
By investing in them and remembering to bring them with you when you shop, you will find that plastic bags are totally unnecessary, and should be on their way out of the cultural norms.
Here are 6 great options and alternatives to plastic bags:
1. Reusable Tote Bags
It is really easy to get your hands on reusable tote bags.
Most stores sell them for cheap, and though some are still made of plastic, others are made of cloth or fiber.
As long as you only buy a couple of reusable bags in your lifetime, the amount of plastic used will greatly decrease.
Aldi, for example, is a grocery store that discourages using single-use plastic bags. When your items are checked out, they go straight into the shopping cart.
That means providing your own bags – which Aldi does sell! The possible problem here is that they are also usually made of plastic or a tarp-like material.
You can also bring your own totes made of any material to any grocery store – as long as there are no rules against it.
Just make sure that you remember to pack your reusable bags before heading out to the grocery store. Forgetting to bring a bag at Aldi means having to either buy more bags or put everything into your trunk without bags at all.
2. Backpack Coolers
One of the more interesting items on this list is backpack coolers!
There are many food storage solutions you can bring with you to the grocery store, and one of them is an insulated backpack that functions as a cooler!
If you need to pick up a gallon of milk, some orange juice, butter, and eggs but want to ensure they stay cool, a backpack cooler or tote is definitely for you!
I also love taking them camping or on hikes. They usually hold quite a bit of food, drinks, ice, and cold water inside.
Just make sure you don’t overdo it. I’ve had a backpack coolers leak before – even when it says 100% leak-proof.
3. Woven Net Shopping Bags
Used all over the world for various purposes, woven net or string shopping bags are great for small shopping trips or for visits to the farmer’s market.
Though they can’t hold more than a few items at a time, string bags are considered a quick and easy solution to plastic bags. They are usually made of cotton or other natural fibers and are easy to carry around!
The net design is used in packaging and shipping fruit and other products (such as a bushel of apples or oranges).
Still, those packages are mostly made from plastic instead of biodegradable string or netting.
If you need a quick trip to the grocer, a net bag is a great option because it fits easily into your purse or backpack and can be unfolded anytime.
4. Recycled Paper Bags
Paper bags were part of the original shopping experience.
Now that plastic has overtaken the paper sack, it’s important to return to our roots – but with one exception: recyclable paper!
Not all paper is recyclable. Some are treated with chemicals or have certain coatings, like cereal boxes, paper cups, or paper towels.
However, recyclable paper bags are used by many grocery stores and retail shops. You just have to shop at the right places!
Find out from your local shopping center or store if they have paper options instead of plastic.
5. Cloth and Canvas Tote Bags
I love cloth tote bags and always carry one to the bookstore when I go shopping.
Canvas and cloth bags are really popular right now, and there are many online shops where you can get custom-printed or fabric patterns for your bags.
Canvas bags are considered very eco-friendly and better than plastic 1,000 times over.
If you want to carry heavier items while still going green, canvas or cloth tote bags are much sturdier than net or string bags.
They are also much better than the plastic tote bags sold at most grocery stores.
If you want to get custom canvas bags, you can find a lot of great styles and designs on Etsy!
Just ensure the seller you buy from uses good materials for their bags and not cheap plastic substitutes.
6. Compostable Bags
Compostable bags can be anything from paper, plants like corn or potatoes, and hemp.
Using a compostable bag as a shopping bag or trash bag instead of plastic garbage bags is much more eco-friendly.
Not only can you compost your organic waste (such as food or paper waste), but you can also safely dispose of your shopping bag without harming the environment.
While you should try to avoid using a single-use shopping bag – even if it is compostable – they are a more environmentally conscious option for shopping or transporting your goods.
7. Woven Fiber Bags and Baskets
Bamboo, hemp, cotton, and jute bags are other biodegradable options for reusable bags.
You can use these bags for whatever your needs are, and they are much better for you and the environment. You can also reuse woven baskets as decorative pieces in your home when you’re not using them!
Whether you take grocery shopping, to the bookstore, or on a picnic, a woven fiber bag or basket is a great addition to your collection of bags.
Make sure you take good care of your woven fiber bags! Don’t let food or moisture leak into them, and make sure to clean them properly based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Green Habits to Include in Your Daily Life
Like everything, going green requires discipline and changing your habits to fit a new lifestyle.
Everyone slips up every now and then, but building small habits that allow you to initiate reusable items and keep up on your recycling is a great way to help the environment.
Here are a few green habits to implement in your daily life:
Don’t Forget Your Reusable Bag
One of the biggest challenges with going green with reusable bags is remembering to bring them with you.
Always have your reusable bags in your car, or make sure to have plenty of spares. Then you will have backups in your car if you leave the rest at home!
You can also get foldable reusable bags or ones you can make very small. Those will fit under your car seats or fold easily in the back of your trunk.
There are days when I decide to stop at the store before going home. If I don’t remember to stash my reusable bags in the trunk of my car, I end up being forced to use plastic bags.
Usually, I’ll try to choose paper over plastic every time, but not all stores offer paper bags or have them available. Even my big-box grocery store runs out of paper bags all the time, so I end up being forced to use plastic.
One time, I just put all of my groceries into my trunk without bags at all. The bananas rolled around in the back.
Shop Local at Responsible Stores
“Voting with your dollars” is more powerful than you think.
Researching where you shop and spend your money is one of the most effective ways that the individual can help the environment.
The biggest contributors to climate change and pollution are major corporations. Their manufacturing of plastic goods, pollution, and mass production is slowly turning our entire planet into a garbage dump.
It makes the individual feel powerless, but that’s not true!
The best way to fight back against corporations is to shop elsewhere. Find responsible retailers and green-initiative corporations and only shop there.
While this isn’t feasible for everyone – since green-conscious locations tend to be a little pricier – if you can shop at responsible retailers, do it!
This pressures big-box grocery stores and supermarkets into changing their habits to maintain eco-friendly customers.
Recycle Your Plastic Bags
If you have a closet full of plastic shopping bags like most American households, consider taking some time out of your weekend to recycle them at your nearest participating location!
As we said before, a lot of major retailers offer a recycling option.
If you have Sunday errands that you like to run, take your bags with you. You’ll be glad to get them out of your house, and you can prevent them from ending up in a landfill.
Once they are out of your house, try really hard not to let any back in!
Walk Your Reusable Bags to the Store
The best part about the backpack cooler is that it slips easily over your shoulders and settles comfortably on your back.
That means it is a perfect walking companion to your nearest grocery store.
If you have a store within walking distance near you, try to bike or walk there a few times a week instead of taking your car – especially for little trips!
Spending gas to pick up a single gallon of milk when you’re in a pinch is not as satisfying as walking there and back in the fresh air.
Reusable totes and canvas bags make it easy to transport them home, too. Unlike plastic bags, their handles are thicker and usually more comfortable.
Plus, they are more durable!
If you don’t have a store within walking distance, try meal planning so that you never have to make unnecessary trips and only have to spend gas once or twice a month.