Previous post of this Plastic Bag Series was all about forming the “reusable bag” habit which is key to reduce the number of plastic bags we use. And while it is great that we bring our own bags, more can be done to help and reduce the impact on the environment.
Assuming you already stopped using plastic bags for your shopping, today I’d like to explore some less conventional ways to reduce plastic bag consumption.
This might not be so obvious for many people but every time we buy packaged food in the supermarket, we are using plastic bags too. Today many products such as rice, pasta, sugar, bread, frozen food, toilet paper even prepackaged fruit and veggies come in plastic bags.
Most of these bags are never reused (think about the last time you gave another use to a plastic bag used as packaging) and they end up in the landfill faster than shopping plastic bags, causing the same issues described in part I of this series.
Here I am listing some ideas you could explore:
Product selection criteria
First easy change that can be done is to avoid brands that offer products in plastic bags (I know it is not easy, I hear you!). Often you can find same product, let’s say sugar, sold in different presentations: plastic bag and paper bags. I know price is important, but try to develop the habit to add to your “Product selection criteria” the packaging material too and give a chance to products packaged in paper bags or glass/tin depending on the type of item.
Avoid prepackaged fruit and veggies
I know it takes 1 second to grab a ready to go bag of spinach or mushroom, but it doesn’t take that long to put the veggies in a reusable produce bag, maybe one extra minute? Our convenience comes at a high price for the environment.
If we stop buying these products the supermarkets won’t sell them. It is a very simple equation, when we buy these pre-packaged fruit and veggies one of the messages we are sending as consumers is: I need this product and I don’t mind the plastic packaging you are using, so please keep selling it.
As consumers we have power, even if we are not aware of it. In this subject I love this quote from Anna Lappé:
“Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” ― Anna Lappé
Reduce frozen fruit and veggies
Frozen veggies/fruit are very convenient (I know modern life is busy) but most of them come in plastic bags. It is always best to go with seasonal fresh produce and if you have space/time, try to freeze some of those products while they are fresh (freezing berries in summer is a great option).
Consider buying your groceries in bulk
If you are happy to try something different, go to a bulk shop where you can get the products without any packaging. You can take your own containers/bags or use paper bags usually provided. Later I’ll dedicate a post to this topic.
Ask your local shops/restaurants to offer other alternative and promote reuse
Most people tend to go to the same places near their house to buy what they need (groceries, medication, cloth, bread, food etc.) so after a while it is relatively easy to get to know some workers/owners, especially in small businesses. It is a great idea to target these shops and provide suggestions to reduce plastic bag, for instance encouraging customer to bring their own bags putting up a sign next to the register.
Many of these business owners will be happy to consider customers opinions especially when they’ll also save money. And if you don’t feel like talking to them, send them an email or write a letter, there are always ways to reach people.
Stop lining your garbage bin with plastic
It is quite common to line bins with plastic bags to prevent a mess, I used to do it all the time because that’s the way my family used to do it when I grew up and I never questioned it (as many things in life).
People mainly use plastic bags in the bins because few things are wet and combined with all the rest of the waste, it produces an undesirable cocktail at the bottom of your bin and no one wants to deal with that.
The key is to separate your wet garbage (for instance, veggie scraps and food leftovers) and keep it in a separate small container (let’s say an ice-cream plastic container) and when it is full you can add its content directly into the kerbside bin. If you prefer, you can use old newspaper to wrap the waste before putting in the bin. Some people even freeze the wet waste and put it in the kerbside bin right when it is ready for collection.
A small container is desirable because you can wash it easily even in the dishwasher. I personally keep these items in a small kitchen caddy bin until I have enough to put in the compost bin (but we’ll talk about composting later).
Having these wet items in a separate container will allow you to keep only dry waste in your home bin and skip the plastic bag all together. From time to time give it a rinse and it should be fine, this the way I keep my bins at home.
If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of having a “naked bin”, you can always use newspaper to cover your bin, check this video:
Ask the government to ban plastic bags
If you are reading these lines is because you care about the environment and you want to make a difference, however many people and businesses continue using plastic bags freely in most cities around the world.
The ban on plastic bags might sound extreme, but the reality is people’s behaviour doesn’t change as quickly as it is needed and these laws would help reducing the amount of waste produced by these bags significantly.
Here in Australia there have been a lot of campaigns to ask government to ban plastic bags. Some estates have already implemented some form of plastic bag ban, but others are still evaluating that option.
There are lot of organisations working hard to ban plastic bags. For example in Australia:
Support them, sign the petitions, and talk to your local representatives. The more the people get involved and demand action from the government the better, more chance to bring change!
Finally remember to Recycle the plastic packaging you can’t avoid
I already mentioned this but it is important to highlight it because most people don’t know that they can actually recycle the plastic bags that come from packaged products in the supermarket (again think rice, pasta, toilet paper, frozen food, bread etc).
In Australia/New Zealand soft plastic (plastic that can be scrunched) can be recycled using the RedCycle Program which is offered in most supermarkets. Collect your bags at home and when you have enough take them to the supermakerts and leave them in the designated bins.
Well, this concludes the Plastic bag series; I hope you have found some useful information and inspiration to start/continue your journey towards a more sustainable life away from plastic bags. It is not that hard, and there are heaps of small actions everyone can take today to turn this situation around.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” – Margaret Mea
If you found this series useful please share it with you friends and family and leave a comment below telling us what change you have decided to implement. Also if you know other ways reduce plastic bag consumption.
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Thanks for reading,