Say No to the Plastic Bag

Day 184It’s International Plastic Bag Free Day! If you haven’t already started, today is the day, to say no to the plastic bag.

Every minute, people around the world use a million plastic bags, most of which are thrown away after approximately 25 minutes of use. Depending on the type of plastic, it takes between 100 and 500 years for a plastic bag to degrade. During this time, microplastic particles get into the food chain and pollute drinking water, leading to poisoning and other health problems.

If the world does not stop production of plastic bags, in 30 years time the weight of plastic bags thrown in the oceans will exceed that of all the creatures living them.

Here are just a few of the dangers of plastic bags that the organizers of Plastic Bag Free Day highlight:

  • They take at least 100 years to disintegrate and cause both direct and indirect harm to the environment and living organisms.
  • Despite their low production cost, they end up being too expensive for humanity, given that they take so long to decompose and are very hard to clean from the environment.
  • They contradict the principles of conscious consumption and respect for the environment.
  • Thoughtless use of plastic bags by our generation will negatively affect the quality of life of future generations who will have to live on the planet that we’ve polluted.
  • Microplastics get into the food chain, accumulating in living organisms and causing health problems.
  • The main raw material for plastic bags is crude oil, which is an exhaustible resource.

The environmental situation on our planet depends on the efforts of all people who inhabit it, and giving up single-use plastic bags can be your personal contribution to reducing pollution and protecting the environment. It may seem insignificant to you, but in this case, any effort matters because it does help to make this world a better place for us and future generations.

There are a lot of good ways to celebrate, and the easiest requires a simple resolution on your part. The simplest thing you can do is choose paper or cloth over plastic, or even better bring your own bags to retailers to pick up goods. If you own a business yourself, initiate a program to encourage your customers to bring in their own reusable bags, and stop offering plastic bags.

Tomorrow, eco packaging is becoming more popular and you need to be on the lookout.

Saying No is the New Yes

Day 83 – Did you know that by saying no, you are saying yes to the environment? It may sound confusing, but it’s rather quite simple.

When you say no to the plastic utensils added to your take out order, because you know you have utensils at home, or you have packed your own reusable flatware, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the extra condiments served in those tiny plastic cups, because you know you have plenty of ketchup and mayo at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the complimentary toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste at your bi-yearly visit to the dentist, because you have switched to a bamboo toothbrush (a topic for another post) and have a large recyclable tube of toothpaste at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic grocery bag, even when you forget your reusable bags at home, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to the plastic piggy bank that came with the opening of your child’s new savings account, because you know it will be broken in a matter of days, if not hours, and end up in the trash, you are saying yes to the environment.

When you say no to all those things that you know you really don’t need, especially the plastic stuff, you are saying yes to the environment.

It’s not difficult to do and no one will think less of you. It’s up to you to remember and follow through. Just say NO! You can even throw in a no thank you, if it makes you feel better.

Tomorrow, we all need heroes.

Reusable Storage Bags: Never going back to plastic

Day 34 – I never thought twice when I pulled out a Ziploc storage or freezer bag to store an opened bag of crackers or a package of frozen waffles (because the kids destroyed the box). I never gave it much thought when I tossed those bags in the garbage when I was done using them. It’s hard to say how many of those bags made their way to the landfill. It’s hard to say how many didn’t make it to the landfill and ended up blowing around and ending up in a waterway. It’s hard to say why I didn’t give any thought to the use and disposal of these plastic bags.

It was great to find out that plastic bag recycling programs accept plastic storage and freezer bags (like Ziploc), but I wanted to do better. I ended up purchasing reusable storage/freezer bags (gallon size). I couldn’t be happier with this product. They are sturdy, easy to seal and easy to clean. I see no reason why we would ever need to use another plastic storage/freezer bag again.

Tomorrow, the not so sweet truth about chocolate.

Produce Bags: Sad to say it took this long

Day 13 – When I think back to how many produce bags I have used and how many of those bags ended up in the trash, it makes me angry. Why did something so easy as purchasing reusable bags, take so long? There really is no good excuse. There’s not even a bad excuse.

There are so many choices to choose from and the cost is relatively low. I purchased 15 mesh produce bags (in 3 sizes) for $10.99. They are washable, see through and have tare weight tags. So, you don’t get charged for the extra weight. Between my husband and I, I don’t see us being big enforcers of the tare weight. The mesh bags are so light, I can’t imagine there is a huge expense incurred if the tare weight is not subtracted. Whatever your preference may be, the option is there if you would like to use it.

It’s now quite refreshing to open the produce drawers and not see plastic bags overrunning the space. Many a time I would have to battle with those bags. Tearing them open due to the knot I created to prevent any produce from falling out and then the struggle to get all that plastic back into the drawer, so it wasn’t sticking out once closed. Yep, it was a really pain.

Well, the battle is over and I would like to think I won this round. The planet thanks me and I think the produce is much happier, too!

Tomorrow, old smoke detectors and the challenge to dispose of them properly.

Trash Bags: It’s complicated

Day 12 – I was planning on writing about how I ditched the plastic trash bags and switched to compostable trash bags. I was going to go on and on about what an awesome alternative these bags are and encourage everyone to make the change. It seems like a no brainer that a plant-based trash bag would be better for the environment than a plastic trash bag. However, as I delved further into the subject, I found out that it wasn’t that simple. Just because something is labeled biodegradable or compostable, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best option for the environment.

Here is a short explanation of the various types of bag:

Compostable – Compostable bags are great if going to a compost pile, where they can breakdown properly under the right conditions. If a compostable bag goes to a landfill, there is no oxygen, microorganisms or heat to move the process along. They end up not breaking down and mummifying in the landfill.

Biodegradable – Like compostable bags, biodegradable bags needs oxygen to break down properly. If placed into a landfill they will break down anaerobically and creates methane gas, which is not good for the environment.

Degradable – Degradable bags are mostly oil-based and can break down in an anaerobic conditions. Unfortunately, they break down into microscopic pieces that can be harmful.

Not using a bag – Most municipalities require residents to bag their garbage. Some do not. The biggest problem with this option is the likelihood that loose garbage will have a better chance to blow around and become a pollutant.

So, what is the best option? Sadly, there is no perfect solution. Though, I was sure hoping for one.

Here are some options, not perfect, but better than plastic bags made from non-renewable resources.

  1. Recycled Plastic Bags – The Grove sells a 100% recycled plastic bag. Though made from plastic it is not produced using fossil fuels.
  2. Recycled Paper Bags – If you’re composting, all of your wet garbage has an alternative place to go, so a paper bag is an option for your dry garbage.
  3. Use what you have – If you already have large bags that are going to end up in the garbage, then consider using them. I read about using large dog food bags. Having two dogs that eat a large bag of food a month, this will be a good option for us.

The best overall option is to produce less garbage. This seems like an easy solution, but is by far the most challenging of all.

If you would like to read more about the subject, PBS reported on the topic back in 2019.

Tomorrow, reusable produce bags and the sad realization that it has taken me this long to start using them.

How2Recycle: Labels that help

Day 9 – How2Recycle began is 2008 as a project of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. There main goals, as described on their website:

Our Goals

  • Reduce confusion by creating a clear, well-understood, and nationally harmonized label that enables companies to convey to consumers how to recycle a package.
  • Improve the reliability, completeness, and transparency of recyclability claims.
  • Provide a labeling system that follows Federal Trade Commission Green Guides.
  • Increase the availability and quality of recycled material.

Currently, they have 225 brands and retailer members who are making their packaging more recyclable.

Recycling can be confusing and some of the time to we find ourselves wishfully recycling. This is when we are not entirely sure if something is recyclable, but go ahead and place it in the recycle bin, hoping it will be recycled. I know I have been guilty of this practice. Unfortunately, many of those wishful recyclables end up contaminating the true recyclable items and preventing them from being recycled. More times than not, it all ends up in a landfill.

How2Recycle takes the guess work out of identifying where an object can go. Hopefully, more businesses will use this labeling system, but for now make sure you are keeping an eye out for the How2Recycle label on your household items.

Check out this poster for a good reminder on what plastics can be recycled and which can not. And always remove any labels from plastic you intend to recycle. Sometimes it takes a pair of scissors.

Tomorrow, we’re going to celebrate a National Holiday of sorts and explain why everyone should be participating.

Plastic Bags: They’re still here

Day 8– It’s crazy to think that the inventor of the plastic bag, Swedish engineer, Sten Gustaf Thulin, created them in 1959 to save the planet. The bags were developed as an alternative to paper bags, which were considered bad because they resulted in trees being chopped down. Fast forward 62 years and they are not saving the planet, but causing extreme damage to the environment.

Eight states have banned the use of plastic bags – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont. Fourteen other states have adopted laws to protect the use of plastic bags. A Politico article, written in January 2020, explains why plastic bags are not going anywhere, anytime soon. It all comes down to money. Making plastic bags is a big business and those involved in their production are making sure they stick around, even though they are harmful to the environment.

In Chicago, there is no ban, but a fee is applied to your purchase when accepting a plastic bag. Most of us bring along our reusable shopping bags on our trips to the store to avoid using the plastic bags. However, it seems almost impossible to keep these plastic bags out of your household, no matter how hard you try. They find there way in, oneway or another. This pandemic has made it even harder to avoid them. Many stores are not allowing your reusable bags from home.

So, what to do with those plastic bags? Some will use them to line their waste baskets at home or use them to pick up their pet’s waste. The unfortunate thing with those uses is that they end up in a landfill, where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Another option is to drop them off at a plastic bag recycling kiosks. Many stores offer these drop-offs. My go to places are Target and Jewel.

It appears that these programs are legitimate. However, the success of the program depends on the actions of each store and their handling of the plastic bags. I would like to think that these companies are doing the right thing and providing a program that does exactly what it says it will do, recycle plastic bags.

Did you know those plastic bag kiosks except more than just grocery store plastic bags? Here is everything they except:

  1. Paper towel / Toilet Paper plastic bags
  2. Bread Bags
  3. Air Pillows (plenty of these arrive in my Amazon purchases)
  4. Case wrapping (water bottles, Gatorde, etc)
  5. Food Storage Bags (sandwich, storage and freezer bags)
  6. Produce bags
  7. Shopping bags
  8. Plastic shipping envelopes (remove labels)
  9. Cereal box bags
  10. Anything with How2Recycle Label stating plastic bag

Between the composting and keeping a lot of these plastic bags out of the garbage, we have reduced our household waste immensely. We went from two garbage bags a week, to one bag, every 9-10 days. Not too bad, but I know we can do better. I keep a bag under the kitchen sink where all our plastic bags (of all kinds) end up. Once, I have plenty collected I drop them off on my next visit to Target or the grocery store.

It’s great that these programs exist, but ultimately we need to find ways to avoid these plastic bags. Throughout this year, I will discuss how my family is making changes to keep these bags, in whatever form, out of our house.

Tomorrow, we’ll look a little closer at how2recycle and how their labels are taking the guess work out of recycling.