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19 March 2008

Grocery Bag Impact

A while back I found this tutorial for making cloth shopping bags. I made up 4 of them and I've got fabric for another that is cut out and ready to go if I'd just sew it up, which takes about an hour once you get the hang of it. They're nice to use: one of these is stronger than plastic, so you can load it down more, and they're nicer on the hands to carry. When they get dirty, I toss them down the laundry chute. So I'd have to say that the cloth bag experiment has been working out well for us. And it has definitely cut down on the number of those annoying plastic bags on top of my fridge.

Turns out that little things add up quickly. MSN has an interactive article on paper vs. plastic bags. Turns out neither one of them is really all that wonderful for the environment. At the end is a fun little impact calculator. I used it to guesstimate our bag usage at around 288 bags a year. There's really only one store around here that offers paper bags, so I selected 100% plastic use. If I reduce my bag use by 70%, then I save 230 plastic bags. That is, as Andy pointed out to me when I started using the cloth bags, a drop in the bucket. (But it's a lot of bags that aren't filling up the top of my fridge!) But the cool thing about this calculator is that it lets you see what would happen if other folks did it with you. I selected 10% of Americans also reducing their plastic bag usage by 70%, and supposing that they were all using and reducing in the very same way that I did, it would save more than 13 billion bags a year. That's 1.16 million barrels of oil!

That's something concrete and immediate that we can do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. I've got 6 cloth bags now. Four I made, and 2 were $1 each at one of the grocery stores I shop at. I like the homemade ones better: they're pretty. But the green store bags work just as well, so you don't even have to be a carfty sewer type to do it.


Shari said...

I looked at the picture of the bag that you sewed. It is really cute. It looks much sturdier than the thin plastic ones.

misskate said...

Hmm.. that's an interesting thought.
I've been thinking a fair amount lately about my "carbon footprint" with all the excitement and proposed legislature about environmental stuff. I feel like I do ok for the most part: buy local, ride trains, eat moderate amounts of meat. And I do reuse my plastic grocery bags as garbage bags, and the paper bags I use to wrap packages to missionaries.. but I do have an insanely large amount of them under my sink.

Your blog makes me think a little more seriously about grocery bags of cloth..... hmm.

Ritsumei said...

Shari - they are much more sturdy than the plastic ones, easier on the eyes, and nicer to carry as well: the soft fabric doesn't bite into your hand like a plastic bag will.

MissKate - They're actually not too bad to use. It's a bit of an adjustment in how you think, mentally, and all, but once you get used to it it's pretty straight forward. One reason that I prefer the ones I've made is that not only are they cuter, but they fold up into a pretty compact bundle & I can put one in a coat pocket for little trips. Obviously this won't work as well for summer months, but in the winter it's pretty tidy. And I just set them on the conveyor belt at the front of my stuff when I get to the checkout. Sometimes the cashier is familiar with what to do with them, sometimes they look for a tag to tell them what to charge me (LOL!) but nearly always it's no big thing once they understand what it's all about. And as the bags I made are based on regular plastic bags, they fit just right on the the plastic bag dispensers so they're even pretty convenient to fill. And it's tons more comfortable to carry. I've got another one cut out that I'd like to make up here pretty soon. Flat sheets from Walmart are pretty cheap & they make nice linings for several bags. I have a black sheet that I'm working on using up, and then it's something less than a yard of pretty fabric, can't remember right now, I think right in the neighborhood of 1/2 yard, for the outside of the bag.

But that little demo-article-thingy got me to thinking about oil use. People seem to automatically think of cars and gas use when they think of "reducing oil dependence," but there's so many other ways to do it. Buy glass bowls instead of plastic (they'll probably last better anyway, if you're not inclined to breaking them), use fabric bags, re-use containers like sour cream ect for leftovers rather than ziplocks or plastic wrap. The more that I think about it the more that I realize that plastic - made from (foreign) oil - is all over our home and that reducing that stuff will also go a long way toward reducing that dependency. And it's easier to reduce your plastic use than it is to start driving less.


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