We live good part of our days following patterns that we have formed over our lifetime, it is automatic, we don’t think about them and many times we are not even aware they exist. Last week in part II of this Plastic Bag series, we talked about different types of reusable bags and things to consider when making the switch, but now it is time to tackle the part that is challenging for most people: forming the new habit.

Many people often tell me they understand it is important to stop using plastic bags but they always forget to bring the reusable bags so they just gave up. If this is you, don’t worry I totally get it, you’re not alone because change it is not so simple.

Shopping bag

Shopping bag – don’t leave home without me!

Now, if you have tried to bring your own bags before and failed, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Scientists say it can take anywhere between 15 and 200+ days to form a new habit, so it is clear that we need repetition (heaps of it), but also clues and reminders.

Developing this habit to me is a two step process:

  1. Remember to bring your own bags.
  2. Remember to refuse the plastic bag even before it is offered/provided.

1. Bringing your Own Bag

I started using reusable bags when I first came to Australia, at least 8 years ago; without knowing a lot about the plastic issues, the idea clicked. We bought several Green Bags from the supermarket and started using them straight away. To some extent, I think the fact that we were in a new environment and changing so many other things at the same time, helped us a lot to form the habit quickly, however at the beginning forgetting the bags was not uncommon.

My trick after years using them is: Don’t give the bags a place at home; keep them near you all the time.

Groceries/produce bags

If you own a car, that’s the place for your groceries bags. Every time you get home with your bags, unload your food and take them back to the car. If you live in an apartment and your car is far or you are busy/tired to take them back straight away, no problem, leave your bags in front of your door (literally in the middle of your way), so next time you leave the house, you’ll have no option but to take your bags with you – back to the car. This is the best reminder I have found.

Don't forget your bags

Don’t forget your bags

If you don’t own a car, then keep a couple of foldable bags in your backpack/handbag, ready to be used every time you go to the supermarket.

Other purchases

I keep a couple of my clean foldable bags for other purchases around me. Given that my purses are all tiny because I can’t carry too much weight, I don’t have one there but I always have at least one in my car and one at work and if I know I need to buy something in particular, then I take it with me.

If you have no issues with space, I would suggest you always keep one with you all the time. Once is empty, return it to its original location.

2. Refusing Plastic Bags

As simple as it sounds, many people don’t like to do that, why? Because they feel they are being different and therefore judged. It is not easy to step outside of social standards and I get it, I have been there. My advice? start small!

I think it is quite common nowadays to go to a supermarket and take your own bags and you don’t even have to refuse the plastic bag because as soon as you show your reusable bags, they use them. Just make sure you locate the bags in the check out counter before your food so they can easily see them.

Next, when you are ready, start refusing the plastic bag when you go to shopping centres, food courts and basically every place where you are being offered one. The script is quite simple:

“I don’t need the plastic bag; I have my own, thanks”.

In my experience even in nice shops the employees are quite familiar with reusable bags, I get comments all the time, they say more and more people are refusing plastic bags nowadays. If you still feel it is too much to go a store with a reusable bag, get/make a nice one. I have some foldable bags with pretty prints and those are the ones that I use outside my normal grocery shopping, they are hidden in my purse and I take them out when I am ready to pay. It is also a good idea to have these special bags apart from your groceries ones to keep them nice and clean, read part II of this series for more details.

For this habit of refusing the plastic bag the reminder is the payment, when I am ready to go and walk to the counter to pay, I take my bag out of my purse and I tell the person in advance that I don’t need the plastic bag, otherwise while I pay they usually put the items in plastic bags and it is worse when I have to tell them after everything is packed and ready (although I have done it few times when I’ve been distracted, but this it is not ideal because you can imagine people are not happy with the last minute change).

Trust me after a while, refusing the bag becomes second nature, you only need to practice.

I forgot my bag, do I really need one?

Unavoidably there will be times when you forget your bags or you are not prepared and you really need to buy something. Ask yourself: do I really need a bag?

In my experience often I don’t. I might look ‘different’ with few items in my hands, but I am ok with that.

It might be hard if you are getting your weekly groceries and you forgot your shopping bags, but you can still reduce the use of plastic produce bags.

As I mentioned earlier, I often see people in the supermarket using plastic produce bags for even 1 item. Really no bag is required when buying few veggies, I just put them straight in the trolley and when I am paying the person in the cashier just put them together in the scale and from there to the shopping bag. Also I usually don’t use bags for bigger items such as a bunch of bananas, watermelons, melons, pineapples etc.

Here in Australia, I am not sure in other countries, in regular supermarkets they offer paper bags to buy loose mushrooms; the other day I washed all my produce bags and I had to buy some fruits and I really needed a bag, I used two of those paper bags to resolve the issue. Of course, there are also resources in those bags too and they are not the ideal solution either (I’ll write about that later), but at least I could skip the plastic bag.

So there you have it, few ideas about forming this habit and start bringing your bags. It is tricky at the beginning but it is so rewarding once it comes naturally and you think about all the waste you are reducing.

Next time, the last post of this plastic bag series: other ways you can reduce the use of plastic bags. In the meantime, leave a comment: do you have any other trick to remember your reusable bags? How do go about refusing the plastic bag?

This is part III of my 4-part series on Plastic Bags. If you are new to this series, it is maybe good idea to read part I and part II

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Thanks for reading,