Friday, December 28, 2007

Li's Quick Eco Tips And Actions: Reusable Totes/Bags (Environmental Information)

*edited to add information at the end of the entry

About seven years ago, I started saving all of my plastic and paper bags from shopping to be a little more eco-friendly (I was reusing them as trash bags and storage bags). After only a couple months, I could not believe how many bags I had accumulated in such a short amount of time--and most of them were from food shopping! Since it was a lot of waste, I began using reusable canvas/fabric totes and bags when purchasing something to be more eco-conscious. When my health took a drastic turn a few years ago, I got out of the habit of using my reusable totes/bags but in the last year I've gotten back to doing this simple but effective eco-friendly habit.

What are the advantages of using reusable totes/bag?

Less waste (which is good for the planet and in the long run good for you!).

Less pollution and usage of resources (since less trees have to be cut down, and no materials and energy are produced in making new/more plastic and paper bags).

Durable bags (no more ripped paper bags and broken spaghetti sauce!).

No plastic discarded in the environment (animals can choke on plastic).

Some stores currently offer incentives if you bring your own bag: Whole Foods will refund you 5 cents for every reusable bag you use; Trader Joe's will often have raffles where if you use a tote you have a chance to win a gift certificate for free food. And I don't know if they still do it or not since I haven't been to one in a while, but Shopper's used to give you 3 cents for every bag you reuse. Check your local food stores to see if they have similar incentives.

Any disadvantages?

You have to remember to bring them (it helps to keep them in a place where you won't forget like by the door or in the trunk of your car). You'll need to get at least a few (since for food shopping you need several bags especially if you are buying food for many people). You may have to buy some (but if you try you may be able to get some for free, and even if you have to buy, they aren't that expensive).

Where can I get a reusable tote/bag?

I have a wide variety of totes, some of them I got for free and some of them I paid only a few dollars (they range in price anywhere from $1 to $15 or more, but are generally around $3-10). You can usually get free or inexpensive tote bags at:

Festivals: You can get totes/bags from some festivals, like D.C.'s National Book Festival or Green Festival. This year at the Green Festical you could get two free basic canvas bags from two different organizations, and another vendor was selling (nicer) bags for only about $3 or so dollars. I didn't go to this year's National Book Festival but during (two) previous years they offered a free tote (that had the NBF logo on it).

Events: I've attended events in school (during my undergrad days) where they've given away free bags.

Jobs:I've also gotten free totes from places I've used to work at.

Stores: During the holidays some department stores will offer free totes or bags from (non-natural) cosmetic/perfume or clothing companies.

Whole Foods now sells reusable bags. My sister got a really nice lined, zipped bag they were selling for for $3 that I think she mentioned she got for free since she bought over a certain amount of food. I got a nice green bag (not as nice as hers but still durable) at my Whole Foods for 99 cents. So I'm guessing different Whole Foods in different areas have different promotions (my sister and I live in different areas).

Many craft stores sell totes for really cheap, for only a few bucks (and supplies to decorate them too!)

One of the nicest bags I have is a celtic/pagan design bag I got in college for under $10 at a local clothing store. I got this bag about nine years ago and it's only now beginning to fall apart (but easily fixed with thread and a needle, if I ever remember to fix it!)

Companies or organizations: Companies and organizations may have totes with their logo on it. They either may give them away free at an event, or you can buy them at a decent price to support their organization.

What if I forgot to bring my reusable totes/bags to the store?

If you are only buying only one or a few (easy to carry) items items (and it isn't raining) then ask for no bag. But if you are buying a lot and forgot then no sweat: you can still reuse the plastic or paper bags you get from the store. Once a month I purposely leave my bags at home when I go food shopping since my recycling/trash company requires us to place mixed paper/newspaper and cardboard in paper bags, and since I recycle I need paper bags! (Your community may be different). I also still reuse plastic bags for trash etc when I get them. And when I had a kitty (rest in peace Kitty!) I used bags to clean up his litter. Some stores recycle plastic bags too (many grocery stores, and yes, even places like Walmart).

Where can I learn more about this topic?

National Geographic had an interesting article about plastic bags, paper bags, and reusable bags from 2003 on the advantages and disadvantages of plastic bags and reusable totes.

Some statistics on the issue from the Sierra Club.

Some cities like San Francisco have already banned plastic bags in some stores and other cities like New York City are considering making it mandatory to recycle plastic bags. Article from the New York Times, July 2007, which contains a good summary on worldwide recycling of bags.

The Green Guide (part of National Geographic Society) has an excellent article on suggestions on cutting down bag use. The Green Guide also offers an excellent free e-newsletter :) (Note: the article is from Jan of this year, and San Francisco has already implemented a ban, but this article has a lot of great tips in it so is worth reading!)

Article about San Francisco's ban on plastic bags from the San Francisco Chronicle. The ban is only for large super markets and large chain pharmacies.

To find out where the closest recycling facility to you, check out

My sister posted a great idea in the comments about crocheting or knitting your own bag! On a kind of related but not really related side note, my sister is the bomb at knitting; for the holidays she knitted me a Slytherin scarf (and she's made me a lot of other beautiful scarfs, hats, gloves, and socks over the last few years). (We love Snape!). So if you are an awesome knitter like my sister is, you can definitely make your own bag! Handmade stuff not only rocks but is very eco-friendly! :)


beXn said...

Don't forget that you could also knit or crochet your own shopping bags! There's tons of free patterns online. Possibly the coolest ones i've seen are made from strips of actual old plastic bags!

Solarkat said...

Thank you BK! What a great idea! I forgot to write about this! I will add this note to my post right now!

Love you! :)