Chapter One: Reusable Shopping Bags
- Consider investing in both reusable, cloth grocery bags and smaller produce bags
- Plastic grocery bags cannot be recycled in your normal curbside recycling
- Plastic bags (and other plastic items!) can be returned to take-back centers usually found at grocery stores and other big box stores, such as Walmart or Target
Long before I came up with the harebrained (hair-brained??) idea to start my own company focused on solid hair care, I had an interest in making my home more eco-friendly. Specifically, I wanted strategies that could be used to reduce the amount of plastic my family and I were using on a daily basis, but didn’t break the bank.
One of the first - and probably easiest - things I did was to invest in some reusable, cloth shopping bags. This has been a game changer for me. It’s a great feeling to leave the store without a million new plastic bags, and most stores even offer a few cents back for using your own bag. Don’t get me wrong, I know that plastic bags can also be reused to serve a purpose (as a trash can liner for smaller garbage cans, dog poop picker-upper), but you’ll likely accumulate more than you’ll ever be able to use if you’re getting new plastics bags each time you shop.
The second thing I did related to my grocery shopping habits was to invest in some reusable produce bags. I found a great set of different sized mesh bags that have the weight of the bag on them so you can have the cashier tare out the bag weight before weighing your produce. It also saved me the trouble of wandering the produce section for the roll of tear-off plastic bags. Why are they always so hard to find? Is it just me?
Despite many plastic grocery bags proclaiming themselves recyclable, they’re certainly not able to be processed in traditional recycling facilities. I wrote a story about the hidden costs of plastic bags back when I did a stint as a science reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was eye opening to me. If you throw these bags in with the regular recycling, they gum up the sorting machines and can be dangerous for workers who have to manually clear them, not to mention time consuming to stop production regularly to clean out the machine. This is costing your community more money to run recycling programs, which gets passed down to...you guessed it...you.
In order to be recycled, plastic bags need to be taken to special take-back centers that you often find at grocery and other big box stores like Walmart and Target. I don’t know much about how they process this plastic, but I’ll do a little more digging and get back to you in a future blog post.
If you’re curious, here is a list of things that ARE accepted at the take-back centers - but do make sure they are cleaned and dried to remove any food residue. If just one item has food on it, it will contaminate the entire batch:
- plastic shopping bags (from any store, but be sure to remove receipts)
- food packaging (Ziploc-type bags)
- bread bags
- plastic liners from cereal boxes (do not include if they tear like paper)
- produce bags
- dry cleaning bags (remove staples, receipts, hangars)
- plastic newspaper wrapping
- product wrapping (such as covers a case of water bottles, etc.)
- bubble wrap and air pillows (popped)
- plastic shipping envelopes (remove labeling)
And here are the items that CAN’T go to the take-back centers and need to be thrown in the trash or somehow reused (you creative people, you!)
- frozen food bags
- cereal box liners that tear like paper
- biodegradable bags
- pre-washed salad bags
- candy bar wrappers
- chip bags
- six-pack rings
I hope that these ideas and tips are helpful. I’m not perfect with my plastic bag usage and hope to someday get there. I found this really great quote a while back that helps soothe my concerns when I know there is more that I could be doing.
“We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
-Zero Waste Chef