The journey of a Christian wife, stay-at-home mom, quasi-tree-hugger, and cheapskate to find ways to "CHanGE" her life to be Cheaper, Healthier, Greener, and Easier. Constructive feedback always welcome!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pickier About Plastic, Part 1: Bag It Up!

In a previous post, I had mentioned that I would talk about alternatives to plastic use in a future post. The more I've dwelled on this topic in my mind, the more I realize two things:

1) I can't do this all in one post, and
2) I'll be honest, I don't have all the answers on this one as I still struggle to reduce my plastic use.

So I'm going to break this subject down into multiple parts. This one is going to discuss alternatives to plastic bags--both the kind used for hauling items home from a store and the kind used around the house and for meals on the go.

First of all, why make this change?

(From About.com)

What’s So Bad About Plastic Bags?

Plastic bags are not biodegradable. They clog waterways, spoil the landscape, and end up in landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.

Plastic bags also pose a serious danger to birds and marine mammals that often mistake them for food. Thousands die each year after swallowing or choking on discarded plastic bags.

Finally, producing plastic bags requires millions of gallons of petroleum that could be used for transportation or heating.

So switching from plastic bags to other types not only benefits the environment, it can also save money as overall petroleum demand would decrease, thus potentially making the cost of it go down--which could mean cheaper prices at the pump down the road? Or, at least, the prices wouldn't keep going up like they have been. So, there you go--Greener and Cheaper.

I'm not going to make the absolute claim that plastic bags never come through the doors to my house. They do, when I can't really help it or I don't have a viable alternative in my possession. That being said, here is what I have been able to do thus far:

- Use cloth shopping bags.
Yes, there are multitudes of stores, both online and brick-and-mortar, that sell reusable cloth bags. Some are less than a dollar each for something simple, others are designer and really cost more than a bag for hauling "stuff" should. Let me let you in on a little secret--I have never, ever paid for a cloth bag. No, I haven't been shoplifting them. I've won them as door prizes. I've gotten them from meetings and conferences back when I worked outside the home. I've had random people just give them to me because they don't need them. Do they match? Heck no. Are they stylish? For the most part...no, not really. Do they do the job? Yep. You don't have to go organic on the cloth to make an impact. Just the fact that you're reusing the bag and eschewing the plastic alternatives makes a difference. Just wash them periodically, especially if you use them to bring home raw meat from the store. I do occasionally forget to bring a bag into a store where I just need an item or two (and this is with them being kept in the trunk of my car!). In that case, I just say, "I don't need a bag" and carry the item(s) out in my hands. I know that Target will discount your purchase by 5 cents for each cloth bag used. Kroger used to have a 4-cent program, but they discontinued it. Boo.

- Find other uses for the plastic bags you do acquire.
As for produce? Okay, guilty as charged, I still use plastic bags. I'm still trying to justify spending money on a set of Flip and Tumble Reusable Produce Bags:

But I do reuse the bags for dog waste when I take my Yorkie out on a walk. I know that there are biodegradable alternatives in that realm, but the Cheaper side of me can't fork out the money for those when I have bags in my pantry that will do the trick, even if they aren't as environmentally friendly.

The plastic bags don't just end with hauling home groceries and bagging up produce at the store, I know. Bread comes in it. Potatoes. Toilet paper. Paper towels. You name it. It all goes in my "dog waste baggie" pile. When I get sick of my pile and know that I have far more bags than I'm going to have dog poop, I take them to my local grocery store and recycle them.

- Invest in reusable snack and sandwich bags.
I say "invest" because yes, this isn't Cheaper at first by any means. But if you use the bags enough (and not lose one in a subway station less than a year after getting it like I just did), you will recoup your investment when you don't have to buy as many sealable plastic bags. And it's definitely Greener as you're avoiding the hazards listed above in the About.com excerpt.

At first, I went the slightly less-expensive route and purchased a snack and sandwich bag set with a Velcro closure made by a WAHM (work-at-home mom). The inner lining was completely attached to the outer lining, which meant that getting it completely clean in the washer was a challenge. I had to turn the bag inside out to wash it and seal up the Velcro so it wouldn't stick to anything else, so the outside of the bag might not be as clean. And it took longer to dry while hanging up because I couldn't separate the interior and exterior. Plus, Huz complained that the bread on his sandwich that I put in the sandwich bag the night before he had to go to work was stale by the time he was ready to eat it. So I could only pack the lunch the morning of. Considering he leaves for work at 5:45 am--nope, not happening here. So I set out looking for a better bag.

Here's what I found:
Celeste Blake Designs snack bag
Celeste Blake Designs on Etsy sells a very nice bag that takes care of all the negatives that I encountered with the other type of bag. Zipper closure keeps food fresher longer; in fact, I had Cheerios in there for nearly a week without them going stale! The inner lining is only attached to the exterior at the top of the bag, so I can pull the lining out and machine-wash both the inner and outer parts at once, and they hang-dry quickly. I love these bags! We have both the snack and sandwich bags in this dinosaur pattern as it is the one Dot chose, and she has them both in her lunch the 2 days per week she's at preschool. They totally don't match her pink-and-purple lunch bag, but who cares? She sure doesn't!

- Find other substitutes for zipper-style plastic bags.
I'm still experimenting with this one, but here are a few suggestions:

* Divide bulk meat and freeze it in glass jars and dishes instead of freezer bags.
* Once it's empty, reuse the bag in a cereal box for crushing crackers. Be sure to clip the end closed!
* When coating meat before cooking, use a bowl instead of a plastic bag for your marinade or dredging.

- Wash and reuse zipper-style plastic bags if possible.
Many times, we just can't help using these plastic bags, or we acquire them from someone else. If they're not dirty, reuse them, washing them out first if needed. I wouldn't reuse ones that had raw meat in them, though. Sometimes I use them to store some of Dot's toys that are a set and have a bunch of little pieces. I like that I can see through them and tell at a glance what is inside them. Reusing them is definitely Cheaper, Greener, and Easier as you don't have to go out and buy more as often.

Next up? Well...let me dwell on that a little further and I'll see what other methods I've used for reducing plastic use. Perhaps a segment on eating and drinking utensils.

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