Monday, July 14, 2008

Bye-Bye Plastic: Grocery Bags Get Greener

Author: Karen Talavera
Copyright (c) 2008 Karen Talavera

It's a small thing for each of us, but a huge thing when you add us all up. I refer to the impending departure of plastic bags from your local grocery, drug, and/or convenience store. At last, the day has come, and for me that day is today.

I just made my weekly pilgrimage to the local Publix, the dominant grocery chain in my neck of the woods (which happens to be Florida) to be greeted by - at long last - reusable fabric grocery bags for sale at a mere 99 cents each. I selected four bags and put them in my empty cart. They were not only incredibly roomy, but well constructed and even fairly attractive. It was such a small act, but it felt like deliverance.

You see, my husband's been complaining about plastic grocery bags for years now. He's become more vocal about it since the EU and later San Francisco banned them last year. He works for a French company and travels to Europe several times a year. After every trip to the home office I have to hear about our wasteful American ways, and the inevitable commentary on all those plastic grocery bags we use comes up. Despite the fact that most grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling bins, and that we use them, he remains on his soap box. But not for long.

I agree with him, and have long contemplated pulling out the seemingly self-propagating pile of canvas promotional bags and beach tote bags we've accumulated over the years and bringing those with me on my weekly grocery shopping trips. Yet I inevitably forget. Or the bags aren't wide enough. Or some other lame excuse. Unlike fashionable celebrities, we're not in the income bracket to afford $300 Coach or $1,000 Hermes bags (nor are we supportive of raising and killing more cows to produce them). So I've been patiently waiting for someone to corner the market on reusable shopping bags.

Apparently they have. The tiny tags on the bags I purchased from Publix say they're from The Green Bag company is literally in good company, with other firms like Sage Green ( creating mass market solutions for the cost-conscious and lazy of us. I applaud them. Make it effortless and practically free to ditch the petroleum based, sea turtle-suffocating plastic bags we mindlessly use and who wouldn't switch?

Lest you've read this far and are still not convinced to switch, let me share my astonishment at how my four new reusable fabric bags somehow held the same amount of groceries normally contained in nine or ten plastic bags. Even heavy juice bottles, glass wine bottles, cans and cleaning products fit nicely and safely into the new bags. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise came when I quickly realized how much easier it was to carry four - heavy through they were - rather than ten bags from the car into the house. Finally, somehow with fewer bags the groceries seemed to put themselves away faster as well. Who would have guessed?

Last week I was on my way out of a Midwestern city waiting for my flight in a quiet airport terminal when my snack bar neighbor, with whom I enjoyed a meager airport dinner, pointed to the bar TV. The channel was airing a news story about the harm plastic bags do to our oceans and sea creatures. I mentioned most of Europe and now China - yes, even those environmental despoilers - had just banned them. I cited the facts my husband had oft-quoted, that in the United States (which has less than one-quarter of China's 1.3 billion people,) the Sierra Club estimates almost 100 billion plastic bags are thrown out each year. That if just every one of New York City's 8 million people used one less grocery bag per year, it would reduce waste by about 5 million pounds.

"What the hell is our problem then?" she asked. I had no answer, but she had a great idea. To all of you sales and marketing types out there like me, stop ordering your usual imprinted trade show tote bags and order re-usable grocery bags as promotional give-aways instead. Then we'll really be making some progress.

Like I said, I bought four re-usable fabric shopping bags today for a grand total of $3.96 plus tax. It was a pittance to pay for an earth-conscious decision that will reap dividends for years to come and furthermore had me thinking about bringing my own shopping bags with me anywhere I go. It was a small thing, in so many ways, but it felt amazingly grand. It was something anyone could do, anywhere in this country, right now. It was something that very soon, we can ALL do. And that we all should.

Tomorrow when I take my morning walk on the beach maybe I'll see one less plastic bag sailing in the wind. At least I'll know now that day is a realistic possibility. Won't you join me?

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About the Author:
Karen Talavera is a keen observer, critical thinker and aspiring book author with a passion for writing, learning and teaching. She lives in South Florida and sounds off frequently on her blog of the same name, Sound Off. Read more of Karen's writing at .

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