Let's put that in digits so you get a better idea: that's 5,000,000,000,000 plastic bags each year, the majority of which are either ending up in landfills, or on the street, where they pollute our environment.
While that number is shocking, there's some hope. The world has clued into the fact that single-use plastic bags are awful for our environment. Bangladesh was the pioneer—they were the first country to enact a plastic shopping bag ban all the way back in 2002. They banned them not exactly for environmental reasons; it was because they were choking their drainage systems during floods.
Nevertheless, plastic bag bans are spreading. In the US as of November 2020, eight states have banned single-use plastic bags: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont.
Canada is another big country introducing a country-wide ban on plastic shopping bags, along with other single-use plastics like plastic cutlery, straws and some food packaging.
All in all, as of August 1st, 2020, plastic bag bans have been introduced in a total of 76 countries around the world. It's a great thing.
Paper Bags Aren't Much Better Than Plastic
There's only one viable bag solution for stores who need to get around the plastic-bag ban: paper bags. But paper bags aren't necessarily much better than plastic bags.
While it's great to eliminate the production, use and disposal of plastic bags, don't think that paper bags are the perfect alternative.
- Paper bags are also single-use. They're not meant to be reused endlessly, and they're a lot less durable than plastic bags, so you're unlikely to get more than one use out of them.
- They're recyclable, but not endlessly. Paper can't be endlessly recycled. Each time paper is recycled, the fibers get a little bit shorter. Generally, paper can be recycled about 6-7 times before it's no longer suitable for recycling.
- Not all paper bags can be recycled. Those plain, brown paper bags you get from many grocery stores can be recycled. But those "paper" bags you get from many retailers are actually made from a combination of paper and plastic, and therefore can't be recycled. Also, if your plain brown paper bag has any grease, oil or food stains, it can't be recycled either. Bummer.
- It doesn't break down any faster in landfills. If you throw the paper bag in the trash, don't think it will biodegrade very quickly. The lack of light, oxygen and moisture inherent in a landfill means that paper will break down very slowly.
- Paper bags take a lot of natural resources, too. Even though paper comes from a renewable resource—trees—it doesn't make it eco-friendly. We cut down millions of trees each year to make paper bags, then they need to be transported all over the country.
The Problem With Plastic Shopping Bags
Plastic shopping bags have a significant impact on our environment. Not only do they pollute our waterways, but if thrown in the trash, they never biodegrade.
- Animals can eat them or get trapped in them. Plastic bags are often eaten by animals, who can't tell the difference between them and food. This often causes intestinal blockage, leading to starvation. It's also common for animals to become trapped in these bags, leading to drowning.
- They've been found in the deepest part of the ocean. The Mariana Trench, which extends nearly 36,000 ft (10,975 meters) down a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. You may have heard the 2019 news that a plastic grocery bag was found in here. It’s clear that we need to do something about it.
- Up to 80 percent of the plastic in our oceans enters the ocean from land. You don't need to be near the coast for the plastic to end up there.
- Plastic takes an extremely long time to degrade. It will take up to 1000 years for a plastic bag to fully degrade, and even when it does, it just breaks down into smaller and small bits of toxic material.
- The production of plastic bags is harmful. They're made from petroleum, natural gas, and other chemicals. Not only are none of these renewable resources, but the manufacture
Reusable Bags Are The Best Solution
There are some great reasons why reusable bags are better than disposable polyethylene bags.
- They're much stronger. Even if you try to reuse plastic shopping bags, you'll be lucky to get more than a couple of uses out of them before they get holes or the handles break. Paper isn't any better.
- There's no waste. Good quality reusable bags can be used hundreds or thousands of times.
- Some are made from recycled materials.
- Bags made from natural fibers are biodegradable. While we don't recommend polyester or nylon bags, those made from cotton or other natural materials can be composted at the end of their life cycle.
- You can hold a lot more in most reusable bags. Those plastic bags are tiny. Most reusable bags will let you fit up to 2-3 times more than a polyethylene bag. Plus they can hold a lot more in weight, too.
7 Eco-Friendly & Reusable Alternatives To Grocery Shopping Bags
LL Bean Boat and Tote
The Boat and Tote Reusable bag come in both a zip-top and open-top option. It's a neutral off-white bag that can be personalized through a monogram, if that's up your alley. You also have color options for the bag's base and handles, four different bag sizes to choose from, and handle length alternatives so you can pick the perfect bag for you.
The bag is made of heavy-duty cotton canvas and has a double layer base. Its seams are overlapped and double-stitched with nylon making it a sturdy, long-lasting product. Its handles have been tested to carry up to 500 pounds, making it a great reusable bag for groceries, shopping, beach trips, etc.
Lands' End Tote Bags are made of 100% rugged cotton canvas that is strong and durable. The handles are reinforced so it can also carry a heavy load of up to 500 pounds. It comes in 5 color options, a water-resistant base and trim, and an option to personalize it with a monogram or an embroidery.
One of our favorite features of the bag is the wide seams that keep it standing upright. This is perfect if you’re using the bag for groceries or shopping because the contents won’t easily spill out. We also love that it has several pockets and a keyring attachment, which makes it easy to organize your things.
IKEA's net bags are perfect for quick runs to the grocery or farmer's market. They're ideal for storing fruits and vegetables since air can freely circulate through the netting, allowing the produce to stay fresh longer.
We absolutely love that these net bags are made from 100% renewable cotton. The material is environmentally-friendly as it comes from a sustainable source that uses less water and fertilizer.
They come in a set of two different sizes. When not in use, they lay flat and can easily be stored. Washing it is quick and easy, but expect them to shrink in size by about 10%.
A Chic Burlap Option
Now Designs Burlap Market Tote
This is a chic reusable bag that is made of 55% jute and 45% cotton. It comes in a beautiful brown shade with 6 different vintage designs. It measures roughly 13.5” wide, 8.5” long, and 17” tall.
The base of the bag is stiff enough to support heavy loads, has long handles that can easily fit one’s shoulder, and it also comes with inner pockets so your small personal belongings are easy to store. It’s perfect to use for the beach or the farmer’s market. Although the bag is light in color, there is no need to worry about stains because it’s so easy to wipe clean.
Convenient to Store & Carry
BagzPodz Reusable Shopping Bags
BagzPodz are reusable and portable shopping bags that easily attach on to your shopping cart's handle. The pack holds up to 10 bags so you can use as many as you need at any time - perfect for doing groceries because you can easily allocate separate bags for your meats, fruits and vegetables, cleaning aids, and your other purchases.
BagPodz are easy to store and compact enough to be kept inside your bag, the glove compartment or even under your car seat. These bags are made of RipStop nylon so they are very light, yet durable and heavy duty. They are also water repellent and easy to clean which great for every day use.
A Super Chic Option
Baggu's reusable bags are made of 100% RipStop nylon. It is a lightweight, long-lasting and durable material that can up to 50 pounds. It can be used for groceries, shopping, the beach, or even your laundry.
We love that it's big enough to carry groveries, but it can be folded into a 5" x 5" square that can be stuffed inside your bag. It also comes in different colors and designs, giving you several options to choose from, Its handles are also pretty versatile as it can be used as a hand-help bag or can be slung over the shoulder. It’s a huge plus that this is easily cleaned, too!
An Insulated Tote
The CleverMade SnapBasket is an insulated reusable grocery bag. Its thermal insulation can keep food warm or your groceries cold. It full zips up so that the temperature inside stays regulated.
The bag also has patented SnapHinges, a rigid bottom, and a top metal wire frame that gives it a rigid basket-like structure. This feature makes it easier to load up your groceries. Although it has a fixed structure when opened, it can easily be collapsed and flattened when not in use for easier storage.
The bag comes in different stylish designs, and you have the option to use a shoulder strap with it or to hold it like a picnic basket. It is made of strong canvas fabric that can hold up to 30 pounds. Perfect for carrying food, drinks, and even large casseroles.