bags

Trying to go “plastic free”

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Greetings from New England!

Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Robin Johnson

Like most people, I use a lot of plastic. Virtually all of my food comes wrapped in it; it houses my toiletries; and some even sneaks in as cups, straws and bags despite my efforts to choose alternatives. Let’s not even mention the plastic in my appliances and gadgets.

Hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge flotilla of garbage floating in the ocean – and albatross chicks dying from ingesting plastic reminded me that the environment pays the ultimate price for our love of disposable plastic.

When I heard about a campaign to use less single-use plastic, I was intrigued. Could I eliminate it from my life for a month? Only one way to find out!

So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Most plastic can be avoided by carrying a water bottle and reusable shopping bag. My bag can be packed into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up room in my purse. Morning coffee is more challenging. I have to make my coffee at home, or stop in the office to pick up my travel mug.

At home, I’ve come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy. I switched to milk sold in reusable bottles. I bring “empties” to the store and get the $2 deposit back, but I have to recycle the plastic lid. From the milk, I make yogurt, which is pretty easy. Finally, I’ve started making my own almond milk and protein bars.

I may be green, but I still love pizza, Thai, falafel, and other foods. Getting takeout without disposable plastic usually means getting it in my own container. I purchased a reusable plastic clamshell container that I take to my favorite restaurants. Most restaurants are happy to fill my container, and some even give me extra food or a discount. After all, I’m saving them money.

Personal care products may be the biggest hurdle. Few shampoos and sunscreens are available without plastic packaging, and those that exist are online. I’m going to use what I already have, while looking for better options.

I’m keeping a “dilemma bag” filled with plastic garbage I couldn’t avoid. At the end of the month, I’ll continue to look for alternatives.

Could you go without single- use plastics for even a week? What would be the biggest stumbling block for you?

More info on plastic marine debris from EPA

About the author: Robin Johnson writes wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.  She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two cats.  She spends her time vegetable gardening, swimming, and knitting.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Canvas Bags Go Mainstream

About the author: Jeff Maurer manages Web content and does communications work for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He has been with EPA since 2005

We had a question of the week a little while ago about what type of bags people use at the grocery store. There were a lot of interesting answers, and a lot of creative ideas about how to reuse plastic grocery bags (dog owners, for obvious reasons, seem to be enthusiastic re-users of plastic bags). Our intern counted up the comments responding to the grocery bag question of the week, and posted the final numbers in a followup. Now, I realize that readers of this blog aren’t a random sample of the population, but I think we can still conclude: canvas grocery bags have gone mainstream.

This is great news. We’ve recommended reusable grocery bags on our list of environmental shopping tips for years. I started using canvas bags a couple years ago, and they’re becoming ever more common at my grocery store. For those of you who haven’t yet made the switch, let me share a few things about canvas bags that you might want to know:

Canvas bags hold a lot of stuff. As many of the commenters in the Q&A noted, canvas bags are sturdier than paper bags and hold more than plastic. As a member of a warehouse shopping club, this is a priority for me: a 10-pound tub of gummi bears will decimate your average paper or plastic bag. My canvas bags have a long strap that you can throw over your shoulder, and I’ve also got an insulated one that helps keep cold things cold.

The people working at the store are used to canvas bags. There was a time, long ago, when presenting a bagger with your own bag would unleash utter confusion. When you did manage to explain what you were doing and why, you were viewed as some sort of fringe naturalist, the type of person who lives in a cabin with no plumbing and makes their own clothes out of hemp. Those days are over; plop your canvas bags next to the register nowadays, and everyone knows what to do. Also – and this is in response to something my wife once wondered out loud – it is okay to use bags bearing a certain store’s logo at another store. The 16-year-old kid bagging groceries isn’t getting paid enough to bag groceries AND be the brand identity police.

Canvas bags save money. More and more places are charging a small fee for plastic bags. A couple of stores do it, and a few cities are considering it as well. All of Ireland does it. The charge isn’t much, but neither is a canvas bag: I bought mine for a dollar each. Considering that I’ll probably use them for several decades, it won’t take me long to recoup that investment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.