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.