Reducing and reusing


We need to stop using plastic bags.

Now, before you start thinking that I’m a damn “hippie liberal from Seattle” (as I was recently called), let me just say that – as much as I wish it wasn’t true – I am not what you might call an “environmentally conscious” person. I don’t have a compost bin. I don’t drive a hybrid car; I don’t even own a bike. I like the idea of walking to work – but it’s just too hot. I don’t wear organic cotton t-shirts, or jeans made from bamboo. I love hamburgers. I avoid those people outside the grocery store raising money for the baby seals. I don’t always buy organic. One time, instead of recycling it, I threw my old car stereo in the dumpster. For shame.

But I am not a complete lost cause. I never leave the lights on when I don’t need them. I use my heat and AC sparingly (but yes, that’s also because I’m a cheapskate). I do not litter. I cut up the plastic rings from 6-packs before disposing of them. And I am a dedicated recycler. Faithful. Unwavering. Staunch. Even when it means risking my life by driving down to the Kroger on Nolensville Rd. late at night to drop off my recycling, since my apartment doesn’t have curbside pick-up.

Recently, I’ve read several articles about plastic bags and the horrible havoc they are wreaking on our environment. I am not going to preach at you, because I am the least qualified person in the world to tell people to change their habits for the good of the planet. But just some quick facts:

1) 500 BILLION plastic bags are used each year. It costs more to recycle these bags than it does to produce new ones, so they just keep cranking them out.
2) It takes 300 years for a plastic bag to break down – and when it does, it’s into toxic particles that contaminate the soil and the water, and therefore, wildlife.
3) Plastic bags make up a large part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the mass of trash the size of Texas floating somewhere between Hawaii and San Francisco.

I am not going to be one of those squawking voices that says that we must radically change the way that we live – although I do believe that if we want to see any kind of improvement in the health of our planet, it IS going to take some radical changes.

But today, I just want to encourage you to reuse your plastic bags.

Go a month without picking up a new plastic bag.

I have a canvas grocery sack that I sometimes use, sometimes don’t. I want to start using it every time. And I know that I, for one, have enough plastic bags stuffed under my kitchen sink to last me at least a month. This is my challenge to myself. And I hope that maybe you’ll think about trying it, too.



  1. Mary on September 12, 2008 at 9:15 AM

    AMEN sister. I say quit using paper or plastic – save trees and wildlife, GO CANVAS.
    -Mary, another hippie liberal from Seattle. :) (If hippies can wear red lipstick, that is)

  2. Emily on September 12, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    Go Annie! Spread a little Seattle Spirit.

    I just heard the other day that King County has started charging for plastic bags. Each one you use at the grocery store costs you. But if you bring your own, you get a credit (five cents!). Genius!

  3. Anonymous on September 12, 2008 at 10:51 AM

    Yes, canvas bags are a great idea. And you can just keep them in your trunk between grocery store visits.

    Meanwhile, did you know that Marymoor Park has benches made out of plastic grocery bags? They are impervious to the wet weather around here, so they last a lot longer than the wooden ones, and I forget how many thousands of bags each one takes to make. Great idea, huh?


  4. Case and Los on September 12, 2008 at 12:10 PM

    You know what I always say: GO CANVAS OR GO HOME! Well, maybe I don’t always say that, but that’s because I still live in WA. (and yes, I get 5 cents a canvas bag- so I bring 5, even if I don’t need them all!) In Australia, even clothing stores give you canvas (or that mesh material) for your purchases, love it!

    Anyway, in solidarity with you, I’m going to start cussing out all the infidels in TX who destroy our planet. They can call me a hippy all they want. We’ll see who’s laughing when I drive away from their 8 miles/gallon big rig in my 53mpg Prius:)

  5. Deborah Barnett on September 12, 2008 at 12:50 PM

    this hippie California transplant is determined to change the Nashville mindset (and I use that term loosely). I use canvas and I recycle. I don’t always buy organic but do buy from local farmers when I can. And I give all smokers dirty looks.

    Would love a hybrid but that costs $ I don’t have. So I have a scooter on layaway. It’s the best I can do. :o)

    Carry on sista.

  6. MB on September 12, 2008 at 12:54 PM

    These thoughts are probably there because my Dad has a phd in chemistry and spent the majority of my childhood developing new plastics and their production methods, so forgive me if I sound like I don’t care about the environment, because I do very much. I recycle. I had days in the summer when I refused to go anywhere unless I could get there on my bike. However, after wondering “How do they know it takes 300+ years for a plastic bag to decompose?” I did a little research and they can’t actually say with certainty how long it takes (for obvious reasons), although, most estimates it seems are that it takes even longer 500-1000 years based on certain tests. I’d heard it before, but while looking through this ( article I found it interesting that because of the way our landfills are built, items like paper, banana peels, etc don’t decompose much at all either, and plastic bags actually take up significantly less space than paper bags (but more than the canvas bags that don’t get put in the landfills ). Anyway, I’m all for not using either, although the way my wife and I shop – a giant trip to the grocery store once a month or so – would mean I would have to carry 20-30 canvas bags around.

  7. bec on September 12, 2008 at 2:49 PM


  8. luke on September 12, 2008 at 3:27 PM

    i’m sorry to say that the only cost-efficient material to recycle is aluminum, which is why they pay YOU for it. anything else costs more to recycle than to make new ones–like plastic bags etc. if we really want to help the planet we will reduce and reuse yes, but maybe not recycle.
    landfills actually seem to be somewhat debated on whether or not they are actually a problem. the thought is that we have plenty of landfill space actually, and the “toxic” fumes that come from them are always contained and are actually usually used as a source of power themselves! so in a way throwing stuff away (except for aluminum) might be a better way path to energy efficiency.
    as for the garbage patch–the problem there is just simply littering, which is much more a problem with plastic bags because they fly. yes, i said fly. and in that way the toxic particles they give off hurt the environment as opposed to being thrown away and creating energy. if we put as much energy into not littering as we do into recycling then a lot of these problems would be solved. although this might be more of a problem in other countries as the US is relatively clean comparatively, depending on where you go.
    so paper–it is less of a problem because land-fill space isn’t too big of a problem and there are a lot of tree farms out there grown specifically for the use of making paper. i’ve heard there are actually a lot more trees in the world than in the 1920s, and rain forest destruction usually is not connected with our using paper.
    all that to say paper over plastic yes, canvas over anything (except burlap :)). gross.
    sorry for this novel, anyone who made it this far.

  9. Christina on September 12, 2008 at 5:33 PM

    Big fan of the reusable grocery bags. Three cheers for aiding the environmental turn-around. Extra cheers for accessorizing at the grocery store while doing it.

    I’m more or less your tree-hugging, liberal hippie Boston friend. I own it. We marry the gays, dontyaknow!?

  10. | B e c k | on September 12, 2008 at 7:55 PM

    You don’t have recycling pick-up at your apartment?!?! Weird.

  11. Anonymous on September 13, 2008 at 1:36 PM

    I totally agree Annie, and the scarier part is:
    ~there may be TWO giant masses of floating plastic:
    1.) Between the U.S. / mid-pacific and HI
    …and now…
    2.) Off of the coast of Japan
    Research vessels are finding plastic toys that date back to the mid 40’s and 50’s along with every other imaginable plastic thing that can make it down a storm drain. It is so sad, and was horrifying to see what it is doing to coral reefs and marine life.
    Thanks for speaking up! :)

  12. Sarah on September 15, 2008 at 1:15 PM

    I, too, have canvas bags in my car…that I forget to use…every time. I had never even thought of reusing the gross plastic ones that I have tons of in my closet. If I can remember to use them that will be a HUGE step.
    Get this…Mansfield has recycling but only if you live in a home. They will give you the free bin if you live in a home but as an apartment resident, I have no choice. They don’t even have the scary drop off sites.
    I refuse to give up, however. I have 3 boxes in my closet. One for paper (which I burn at the ranch), plastics, and glass and metal. They’re getting full so Mansfield needs to get with the program…and soon.

  13. Nicolas Frisby on October 3, 2008 at 6:19 PM

    It’s also quite fun to just struggle along carrying the groceries in your arms. You get fun looks, and feel young.

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