Tuesday Green Tip #1: Reusable Bags!

Hey everyone! A few of you have requested more eco-friendly tips, so I am starting Tuesday’s Green Tips to help you make easy changes to a planet-happy lifestyle. My first one? The reusable bag!

I’m a bit of a reusable bag fiend. I like to collect really cute ones. I always have one with me : rolled up in a purse, in my backpack for school, my desk at work, in the trunk of my car (when I had one). At first I forgot once and a while on my way to the grocery store, but I left reminder notes and hung the bags on my front door and eventually it became a habit: keys, wallet, reusable bag, cell phone, check! Once and a while I STILL manage to forget a bag, so I just buy a new reusable bag and then gift it to a friend, neighbor, shelter, person-in-need, or whomever could use it!

Having a reusable bag will eliminate a lot of paper and plastic waste. Here are a few short facts about plastic bag waste!

Plastic bags are a waste of resources

It is estimated that 12 billion barrels of oil and 14 million trees are required to produce the 380 billion plastic bags Americans consume each year.[1] Each bag has an average life span of 12 minutes[2] before it is thrown away, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste[3]. Oil is a non-renewable energy source, and plastic bags do not biodegrade, rather they are broken down into particles that pollute soil and water and are taxing and difficult to clean up.


Recycling plastic bags is inefficient

Less than 1% of plastic bags are recycled.[4] Moreover, the process of recycling plastic bags costs city and state governments large amounts of money and is grossly inefficient. According to the Sierra Club, it costs $4,000 dollars to recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can be resold for only $32.60.[5]  According to the Clean Air Council, “The state of California spends about 25 million dollars sending plastic bags to landfill each year, and another 8.5 million dollars to remove littered bags from streets.”[6] At a time when states such as California are facing enormous debt and cutting costs, it seems prudent to eliminate such wasteful practices before eliminating essential services like teachers and public workers.


Plastic bag fees work

San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Ireland have implemented successful plastic bag fees, ranging from 5 to 17 cents in America and 37 euro cents in Ireland. Fees are ONLY required if a person does not bring their own bag. In Washington, D.C., one month’s revenue from fees, $150,000, was used to clean up the Anacostia River. Ireland experienced a 90% reduction in plastic bag use since implementing the plastic bag fee in 2001.[7] China banned plastic bags and saved 1.6 billion tons of oil with an 80% compliance rate. [8]

Single-use bag fees cover both plastic and paper bags, encouraging people to bring their own bags from home and eliminating a huge source of waste and money drain.

Plastic bag fees DO NOT negatively affect low-income individuals and families

Lower-income communities, in fact all communities, already pay for plastic bags or single-use bags through taxes and increased food and retail prices, all from absorbing the cost of cleaning up after single-use bag pollution. These communities also often have the worst plastic bag litter, and “every bag fee policy currently under consideration at the local and state level would either subsidize reusable bags for low-income residents or exempt low-income residents from paying the fees.”[9]


Plastic bags are one of the biggest sources of pollution, especially for the ocean

“Plastic trash entangles, suffocates, and poisons at least 267 animal species worldwide.”[10] It is estimated that 80% of all marine litter is plastic, which never biodegrades. Rather, “when the small particles from photodegraded plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins like PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans.”[11] So it is not only the animals that suffer, but ultimately humans polluting our own food sources.

A plastic bag fee will CREATE revenue, not hinder it.

In addition to the outright cost for city and state governments, also bourn by the consumer through taxes, retailers suffer out-of-pocket costs from single-use bags, which is also transferred to the consumer through higher prices. It costs the city of San Francisco 17 cents to clean up each plastic bag[12], the city of San Jose $3 million per year to unclog drains filled with plastic bag litter[13], and retailers factor in 2 to 5 cents for each plastic bag and 5 to 23 cents for each paper bag for consumer prices, which can add an extra $30 per year per person.[14] Eliminating our use of single use bags will save individuals, retailers, and governments millions of dollars each year, as well as lower carbon emissions, save on resources, and be kinder to our environment in general: “Bags clog storm drains and recycling equipment, costing cities millions, and bag litter lowers property values and degrades recreational areas.”[15] We will all save money, resources, the health of humans and animals, and overall improve our quality of life if we eliminate our false dependence on single-use bags at the cost of literally pennies on the dollar.

[1] Lem, Erin. “The Truth Behind Plastic Bags.” Care2 – Largest Online Community for Healthy and Green Living, Human Rights and Animal Welfare. Care2.com, 29 June 2011. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-truth-behind-plastic-bags.html&gt;.

[2] “Myths Vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees.” Www.projectgreenbag.com. Web. 1 Feb. 2012. <Myths Vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees>.

 [3] Clean Air Council. (2009, May). Why Plastic Bag Fees Work.

 [4] Bushnell, K. Plastic Bags: What About Recycling Them? The Sierra Club. Retrieved June 2010 from http://www.sierraclub.org/sustainable_consumption/articles/bags2.asp

[5] Ibid

[6] Why Plastic Bag Fees Work

[7] Lem, “The Truth Behind Plastic Bags.”

[8] Pasternack, Alex. “As U.S. Cities Waver on Plastic Bag Tax, China’s Bag Ban Saved 1.6 Million Tons of Oil.” TreeHugger. Discovery Communications, LLC, 9 June 2009. Web. 01 Feb. 2012. <http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/as-us-cities-waver-on-plastic-bag-tax-chinas-bag-ban-saved-16-million-tons-of-oil.html&gt;.

[9] “Myths vs. Facts Regarding Single Use Bag Bans And Fees”, projectgreenbag.com

[10] Ibid

[11] Bushnell, K.

[12] Ibid

[13] “Myths vs. Facts”

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid


9 thoughts on “Tuesday Green Tip #1: Reusable Bags!

  1. We use reusable bags whenever we go shopping, and we actually are paid 5 cents per reusable bag that we use when we get groceries at Hyvee! We’ve already paid off the cost of purchasing the bags. We have received a lot of comments from friends and strangers, and it has been a great gift idea.

    I like the idea of a green tip every Tuesday. We compost and have cloth diapers for our daughter, and are always look for new ways to save money and help the environment!

  2. I regularly forget my reusable bags, but I’m remember more now that my Trader Joe’s has started giving raffle tickets to everyone who brings their own bag. They do a drawing each week for $25 gift cards!

  3. I regularly forget my reusable bags, but Trader Joe’s is encouraging me to remember because they give a raffle ticket to every person who brings their own bag. Then they draw every week for a $25 gift card! You know how I feel about free things…

    • Keep them in your car, or stick a note on your door so you see it when you head out. Keep a bag hanging next to your keys, or get a reusable bag that can fold up and keep it in your purse or messenger bag, etc! You can do it!

  4. Although we recycle all of our plastic bags, I will make a better effort at using my reusable bags! Didn’t know if you knew that the one you got in your Christmas box was handmade by yours truly, fun to make too 🙂

  5. Pingback: Shop With a Cause: 5 Favorite Eco Things | eat, recycle, repeat

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