I often hear from people who want to get started going green, but there are so many things that you can do, that they are quickly overwhelmed. I always tell people that they should pick one thing, try it, and get used to it. Once the one thing they are doing becomes routine and natural, that is once it’s no longer “a thing” but rather, just something they do, then pick something else and go on from there.
Here’s an easy one to get started going green: Use reusable shopping bags.
Paper shopping bags
Paper shopping bags are alright, but there are a lot of chemicals, water, energy and other natural resources that go into making them and they are usually only used once or twice. In some communities you still need them to recycle paper at the curbside, but chances are you don’t need as many as you get if you bring home your shopping in them every week.
Plastic shopping bags
Plastic shopping bags may be cheap for the grocery store to purchase, and I don’t object to their occasional use at the store, perhaps to hold raw meat or something frozen. They have uses at home too, you can use them to line small garbage cans and they’re great for clothes and diapers that children have had accidents in. It’s pretty impossible to re-use all the plastic bags that you bring home if you get them for all your grocery shopping. If you do end up with piles of them, realize that most large grocery stores have recycle bins near the entrance where you can drop them off for recycling.
However, most plastic shopping bags end up in landfills, or worse, polluting our rivers and oceans. There are parts of the ocean that have major problems with fish and other animals getting tangled in plastic bags, or eating them and dying. There is a great article about this on Salon from 2007.
Free Reusable Bags
You do not have to spend a lot of money on reusable bags. Many stores sell them for a dollar a piece or even less. I have found that vendors at local fairs and festivals often give them away for free. I was at a local fair this past weekend with only 30 tables at it and one of them was handing out reusable shopping bags and water bottles. Start with a few, 3 or 4 is plenty to get a feel for using them, and you may quickly accumulate a huge number. I often find that conferences give them out as well.
Keep Reusable Bags In Your Car
The key to using reusable shopping bags though is to have them with you when you are shopping. The most reliable way I’ve found to manage this is to keep them with you in the car. After I empty them I stuff them all into one bag, then put them by the front door so that the next time I go to the car, I take them back outside.
What Else To Do With Reusable Bags
Once you’ve started a collection of reusable bags you will quickly find that there are lots of uses for them. I try to keep one bag with small activities for my children, like cars, coloring books and crayons, etc, so if I have to run out quickly I have a bag I can grab to entertain the kids. I’ll toss a diaper or two and a plastic bag in and I have a quick diaper bag to take places as well. They’re helpful for more than just grocery stores, I like to take mine to the drug store and even clothes and shoe stores too. We use them to help pack for car trips, particularly for things that we will want access to in the car, like food and stuffed animals.
I have a particularly tough cloth bag that I’ve put the children’s bubble supplies and wands into and I keep it in the carport for easy access to bubble blowing supplies that can easily be stuck in the car and taken on trips.
Specialized Reusable Bags
|Wine bottle bag re-purposed as beach bag great for keeping
water bottles upright and separate from sunscreen.
Once you find that you’re using the bags fairly reliably, consider investing in a few specialized bags. We have a couple that are lined with a waterproof material, have a little insulation and zipper or velcro closed that we use for transporting frozen and other cold foods from the store. These are particularly useful if the grocery store isn’t your last stop on your way home. We have another one that is designed for wine bottles, but have found it to be useful for a variety of things from the store like glass jars. When we go to the beach it’s a great way to keep sunscreen, water bottles and baby bottles organized and separate from things we don’t want to get wet or contaminated with goopey sunscreen.
Getting a few reusable bags and cutting down on the plastic and paper bags you get is a great way to start going green. It’s not that hard, when our parents were young it was the only way to bring groceries home! Once you’ve gotten into the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you ever used the disposable bags. The most important thing though is having a system so you don’t forget them!