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Paper products contribute to the loss of our forests. Trees are needed to create oxygen, yet we cut down 14 -15 million trees each year in the U.S. alone. To use plastic bags we sacrifice our oil and fill up our landfills. Plastics can take 1000 years to break down since they are not biodegradable. As plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, it can contaminate the soil and water sources. Light plastic flies away from our landfills, blown by the wind, only to re-enter our neighborhoods, oceans, rivers, and farms as litter and pollution. The plastic can clog gutters and drains, get caught in trees, fences, etc. In the ocean it kills dolphins, whales, turtles, and hundreds of thousands of other marine life, because it is mistakenly eaten by these sea creatures thinking it’s food. On farms, the livestock or pet may eat it. But it doesn’t end there. The carcasses they create are eaten by other animals, which in turn digest the same plastic bag, because it did not decompose. Since the plastic is not safe for us, what happens when the bags end up in incinerators? What are the long-term effects that we are not told or just do not know?

Remember 9/11, they said the air was safe. Look at the poor people who have died, and the seriously ill from the unsafe air. Experts have estimated that we use 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags worldwide, per year. That comes out to be a million per minute that we discard.    

Some governments and cities are now recognizing the severity of this problem. A few cities started to mandate the use of environmentally safe bags. The U.S. is behind the times when compared to other countries. Some eco-friendly companies are voluntarily taking action to help improve the environment.

San Francisco, California lawmakers were the first in the U.S. to require supermarkets and drugstores to replace traditional plastic bags with biodegradable plastic. This was a bold move which has spurred a debate for others on the ban of non-biodegradable or petroleum-based bags. Some countries have actually banned the use of these bags. The cities of Annapolis and Baltimore, in Maryland, have also joined in the fight. Similar measures are being considered in other cities such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; Steamboat Springs, Colorado; and other cities in Boston and California. I am disappointed that only a few have joined this voluntary reduction. I don't believe that this is enough and this is where you can help.

One easy way you can help is to demand that stores start using reusable shopping bags. When stores ask you if you would like a paper or plastic bag, say “neither” or “green, I would like to use reusable bags.” While these bags may cost more at first, in the long term, they actually will save the store money. The stores can benefit from being ecologically minded while promoting their company advertising on the bags. Over time, the store will save money from people that continue to reuse the reusable bags. The plastic bags cost 3 1/2 cents per bag. Some stores have managed to have the reusable bags made for as low as 59 cents. Just thing of the advertising benefits the store receives when you take your bag around to other stores. What better advertisement then to take another company’s shopping bag into another store and promote their business. It also shows that the company is concerned about the environment. Companies can apply advertisement costs towards the cost of the bag and hand them out for free, or at a minimal cost.

We should look for high-quality reusable bags made of materials that don’t harm the environment. I found many selections of high-quality reusable bags on-line. Many grocery stores and business are starting to carry them also.

Many cloth grocery bags are made from 100% organic cotton with cotton or polyester web handles. These bags do not hold up as well.

Some are made of a mixture of 80% blended cotton yarn, which is produced from the excess fabric of newly made clothing. 20% of the bag contains 100% post-consumer recycled soda bottle material which is also referred to as Eco Spun. Eco Spun is a fabric woven from recycled plastic (Washer friendly).

Others are made from 100% post consumer recycled material, which is made from soda, water, and food containers. These bags are made of approximately 10 bottles, which are kept out of landfills (Washer friendly).

Bags come in many styles fabrics, sizes, weight, and colors Most of the bags are very sturdy. They can hold weight of 15 to 40 lbs. depending on the weight and type of material. Most of them are able to fold easily for storage. 

What’s important is to get your reusable bag and help save the environment. These bags are sturdier, when compared to plastic. Some people buy three items and come out with six bags after they double bag it. Reusable bags hold 3 - 4 times as much in capacity and are much stronger. The handles don’t break like the flimsy plastic bags. Many of the reusable bag handles are designed to reach around your shoulder, which allows you to carry them more easily. Reusable bags should last many years. Some even come with a lifetime guarantee. To make the reusable bag even sturdier, while packing place the flat boxes or items around the outer edges of the bag.

Some retailers are trying different tactics to encourage customers to use reusable bags. Below are some of the things stores are doing to promote their use.

•Enters those who BYOB (bring your own bag) into contests.

•Special rewards are given for bringing your own shopping bag or not taking one when you make a purchase.

•Customers are entered into monthly or weekly drawings.

•Stores give you .4 to .10 cents credit towards your purchase for each reusable bag you use during shopping.

•If you buy a reusable bag for $1.99, you could recoup your expense after 20 trips, not to mention the good you are doing for the environment.

Most of the stores who sold reusable bags were surprised by the high demand. Inventories were depleted much more quickly than expected. They had no idea that the consumer was so concerned about the impact to the environment. 

I had the opportunity to look at many bags from many retailers and supermarkets. I was impressed by the bags from Whole Foods. They constantly change the design and slogans. They even created a hot and cold bag which will help to maintain the temperature longer.

As long as we continue to use plastic bags, we will continue to unintentionally and indiscriminately harm the lives of our friends, sons, daughters, future generations and other living things. It’s easy to pretend that that once you throw away a plastic bag it all disappears, but it doesn’t. We need to think that grocery bags create a health and environmental risk. We need to change our habits. Why are people insulted if they don’t get a bag? If you only have one item, you don’t always need a bag. Our society is so ingrained that we need a bag for everything.


There are a variety of alternatives for circumstances where reusable bags are not satisfactory and single-use bags are still preferable. Some are degradable and others are biodegradable. Biodegradable are often made from farm products like cornstarch but cost several times more to make. These will fully biodegrade within 6 months. This is the best choice.

Degradable plastics require break down because of reaction of chemical additives to oxygen, sunlight, or heat. Degradable materials will not help save landfill space. These items should be recycled or they end up in our landfills. In order to prevent pollutants from entering our water systems and air, landfills of today are designed to limit sunlight and air, which greatly adds time to the decomposition process.

My wife always brings her own reusable bags to carry groceries with. It’s a habit now. She keeps them folded in the trunk of the car. This way she always has them when she goes to a store. Do not leave the bags in direct sun light in your car because the tread will break down over time and the bags will weaken.

Let’s change our mentality today and reuse plastic shopping bags while we seek other alternatives.

Did You Know?

Just because a manufacturer says "this bag is made from 100% Recycled post-consumer plastic bottles" doesn't mean the ENTIRE BAG is made from recycled material. A portion of the bag could be made from something else.

The fact is that unless the product contains 100% recycled materials, the label SHOULD tell you how much of the contents are recycled. Not all manufacturers will give this to you.

What Does "Recycled" Really Mean?

When you compare, look for specific information. If a label says "recycled," check how much of the product or package is recycled and where the recycled material comes from.


"Post-consumer" material comes from previously used business or consumer products, such as newspapers, shipping cartons, plastic bottles, glass containers, and aluminum cans.

Post-Industrial or Pre-Consumer

"Post-Industrial" or "Pre-Consumer" material is basically manufacturing waste. For example, an envelope manufacturer might recycle the clippings leftover when envelopes are cut from paper. These clippings could be made into other paper products instead of being thrown away.

Excellent Article from the Wall Street Journal dated June 12, 2009