There’s no denying that environmental responsibility has become a major topic of conversation amongst Americans. Slowly but surely, many of us are willing to give up old habits in favor of more sustainable ones — and sometimes, we’re even forced to do so by law. Several states have adopted bans on single-use plastic bags, making it nearly impossible to avoid the need for reusable ones when we head to the supermarket. But whether you like it or not, your family will need to figure out a way to make these bags work for you. Fortunately, it won’t be as hard as you think.
We rely on all kinds of plastics at home, from decorative elements to kitchen appliances. The appliance industry dominates one-third of the powder-coated industrial parts market — and many of us wouldn’t know how to function without products with components made of plastic. Processes like reaction injection molding create many of the plastics we use outside of the home, as well. And while reusable plastics are all well and good, it’s the one-and-done versions that have continued to cause problems for the environment.
Plastic bags, along with plastic straws, have become an easy target. Despite the fact that not everyone is in agreement that they should be considered Public Enemy Number One, many states and individual municipalities have taken the step to ban them. When you consider that one source estimates that a plastic bag has only a 12-minute lifespan from the grocery store to the garbage can — and it takes upwards of 1,000 years to decompose — it’s pretty easy to see why action is being taken.
Even if you don’t live in an area that’s mandated the discontinuation of single-use plastic bags, you might want to do your part to reduce unnecessary waste and engage in more eco-friendly practices. And if the switch isn’t something you’re looking forward to, you might be wondering about the next steps to take. Regardless of whether you’re mourning the imminent death of plastic bags or you’re ready to live more sustainably, these tips will help to ease the transition.
Get a Good Variety of Bags
When you’ve relied on plastic bags for so long, it can be tough to know what to look for in a reusable bag. The trick is actually getting your hands on a variety of styles. There are foldable bags with reinforced bottoms, which are excellent for heavy drinks and big shopping trips. There are also smaller bags that can be carried on the shoulder, which are a great choice for all kinds of shopping. There are even mesh and cotton produce bags that can make it easier to buy fruits and veggies in bulk. Overall, the bags you choose should be durable, washable, and easy to transport. Ideally, they should be made from eco-friendly materials — but if you already have bags at home, make good use of what you have instead of buying new.
Keep Your Bags Close By
After you’ve gathered your bags, the next big hurdle is to make using them a regular habit. Before you leave to go on a shopping trip, double-check to be certain that you’ve returned your bags to the trunk or the passenger’s seat. You won’t want to arrive at the grocery store to find that you’ve left them at home on the counter. Of course, you’ll also need to remember to bring your bags in with you. Otherwise, you might be out of luck when it comes time to check out. It often helps to clip your shopping list to your bags or to keep your purse or phone next to them. That way, you won’t be inclined to leave them behind.
Give Each Bag a Purpose
Many people will use their reusable bags exclusively for grocery shopping — which makes perfect sense, as they’re the natural choice for those consumers who contributed to the $45.21 billion spent on organic food in 2017. But keep in mind that the supermarket isn’t the only place where you can eliminate plastic waste. If you’re going to a shopping mall or running errands, why not bring your reusable bags along? It can help to lighten your load and may inspire others around you to follow suit. Some stores are independently deciding to eliminate their use of plastic bags, so now is a good time to get into the habit of BYOB (bringing your own bag, in this instance). It’s recommended that if you use a bag for a specific purpose — like groceries — you should stick to it. If you want to use a different reusable bag for your clothes shopping or for transporting personal items, that’s fine. Just don’t mix and match, as this can spread germs.
Clean Your Bags Thoroughly
And speaking of germs, we’ve come to the biggest problem associated with plastic bags: bacteria. Families should be concerned here, as one University of Arizona and Loma Linda University study found bacteria in 99% of all bags tested, with 50% carrying coliform bacteria and 8% testing positive for E. coli. You should be especially careful if you use reusable bags to transport raw meat, as fluid leaks can contaminate your bags and other groceries inside. While most grocery stores do offer plastic bags for raw meat and other products, you’ll still want to take precautions.
Fortunately, hand and machine washing has been found to reduce bacteria in reusable bags by more than 99.9%. Although antibacterial cleaner needs to be left on surfaces for 30 to 60 seconds prior to wiping it away in order to be effective, experts say that you’d need to utilize a disinfectant wipe for a full two minutes to eliminate bacteria. If your bags are made of cotton or canvas, you’ll be able to wash them in hot water and put them on high in the dryer, which will help to eliminate germs. Be sure to wash them often and store in a cool place once they’re completely dry.
Change is never easy, but it’s also never as scary as you anticipate. With these tips, you can easily make the switch to reusable bags without feeling like you’re making much of a sacrifice. Even better, you can do your part to protect the planet and keep single-use plastics out of landfills — all while teaching your kids about the value of environmental responsibility.