Reusable Bags Please!

            A raging debate exists over whether paper or plastic is a better option all around the world. Both options have significant benefits and drawbacks, but one thing remains certain though: No one can come up with a solution that appeases both sides of the issue. The reason is that there is no clearly defined benefit that stands out over the downside potential of each bag type. However, some viable solutions do exist, and are quickly becoming mainstay options in America and the rest of the world, including the use of reusable bags.

            Many environmentalists argue that the best way to transport groceries is by using reusable bags. These are generally high in quality and can be used many times before they deteriorate and break. Because they are not tossed aside, they help to protect the environment and keep harmful products out of the landfills and save animals that are susceptible to plastic bags especially. Based on the calculations of some experts, the world consumes more than 1 million plastic bags per minute. This staggering figure is only growing by the year.

            As maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States each year, and out of those, 100 billion are plastic shopping bags, which cost retailers 4 billion dollars annually to purchase. One thought to reduce plastic bag consumption is to place tax on their use. This would help to curb their use and help to mitigate any problems to the environment and help to save the world we live in.


In the site, there is a flurry of different dialogues in regards to which approaches are best in concerns of plastic versus paper. However, as I have challenged myself to think outside of the box, I found several sites that address the practicality of our lifestyle choices in the now. The reason for this is because we are focusing so much on how we can pick one or the other or even an alternative but while we bicker about this we aren’t making any forward progress. I do believe that there should be a decision ultimately, about which route to go as far as legislation goes, eventually. My grandmother got me started thinking about this as she always utilized her excess bags in many ways such as  using it as a liner for her trash dispose, composting bag, carrying around her sewing supplies, and she always made sure that she would bring these bags with her to the places that she went until they completely wore out. We should keep that kind of philosophy in mind, in today’s society, we are quick to dispose of those bags and not think of how we can minimize our consumption of the bags. For instance, I have started to shop at winco instead of my other preferred stores because there I can actually buy by the bulk scoops. There I bring my own bags that I had utilized before and I will transport those bags back home to empty into a glass container that way to prevent further damage to the plastic bag itself. Thus, extending it’s useful life. I have listed some possible ideas of how to find practical use for plastic bags in everyday life.

Small can liners, container for soiled diapers, cat litter bag, packing material instead of foam peanuts, book cover (waterproof), storage for wet clothes/towels for the beach, waterproof gloves if needed, kites, freezer bags, clothes covers in closet, rain bonnet, large bag = rain coat,  wiper covers for cars in winter, home insulation, oil filter dispose, porta potty liner, rugs, dog poop dispose, reusing it for produce, keep wipes in them instead of purchasing disposable wipes, stuffing old mattresses, and to apply waxes and creams. 

These are some small examples of how we can leverage this amazing resource that we end up throwing out everyday. Paper and plastic are evils that exist in our society, however, as we move towards phasing them out we should adopt our grandparents and older generations (such as pioneers)’s strategies for reusing everything until it was worthless.

In the paper vs plastic debate, it is clear that both types of bags have pros as well as many cons for use. It would seem that the alternative reusable bag is the best option for reducing waste. However, before you go out and buy a slew of reusable bags to do your part in saving the environment, you need to consider how wasteful reusable bags can be. According to, there are a few things to consider before purchasing or picking out your reusable bags: Firstly, Who is making the bag and where? If the bag is cheap, then you may be purchasing a foreign bag which was not made under fair trade and fair labor laws. Next, you have to ask if the bag will last? If the bag is cheap, it most likely will not last long, even though the price may be right. If the bag doesn't last, it will go in the trash and contribute to waste. If a bag is free, you will probably end up with lots of them and they will waste away in a closet or pantry, never to be used. A lot of bags will have grocery store logos on them, and you may not want to use a Trader Joe's bag at Whole Foods, leaving those bags wasted as well. To ensure you have the least amount of wasted reusable bags, focus on the quality, not the quantity. Invest in a few well-built, nice looking reusable bags that will last you a while and that you will actually use.
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    About EcoMerge:

    Our commitment in this Portland State University ongoing capstone project is to explore the intersects between economical and ecological systems and inform the reader, four times a year, on different major topical themes. Grocery Bags is the subject of focus on this site.


    March 2011
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