Opinion: Why and How I Started Using Reusable Grocery Bags

By Karoline Steavenson

I began using reusable bags for grocery and other kinds of shopping about a year or two ago.  I made this decision when I read news stories about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an island of plastic trash, mostly floating below the ocean’s surface, that is anywhere from the size of Texas or the size of France. Scientists are not sure of its exact size but they do know it’s out there and it’s huge.

How did this big island of plastic trash develop? It developed because of us. We all use tons of plastic packaging for food, water, electronics, toys and to carry what we buy.  Not all of it ends up at recycling sites or in landfills. Too much of it goes into the sea.

Think of it this way: Los Angeles is a city of about 3.4 million people. If each one of us accidentally lets one plastic bottle or one plastic grocery bag get into the ocean each year, that’s 3.4 million pieces of plastic trash in the Pacific every year and that’s just by accident. That doesn’t even count people who are intentionally careless with their trash.

You don’t have to be near the beach for your plastic trash to get to the ocean. Plastic grocery bags fly away easily. Plastic bottles and plastic caps roll into storm drains, into the L.A. River, and the river goes to the sea.

So I began using reusable bags in an effort to do my small part to keep plastic out of the ocean. I don’t need plastic grocery bags. I don’t even like them very much but at some stores that’s all they have. I don’t think they carry much and when you put them down they collapse and your groceries fall out.

These are my bags!

I bought my first reusable bags at Trader Joe’s for $.99 each. They are made out of recycled plastic and stand up on their own. They are very sturdy and can carry a lot of weight.

The hardest part about switching to reusable bags was remembering to bring them into the store with me. I would place them on the passenger seat of the car to make me remember. I felt a bit awkward at first telling the cashier I had my own bags, and back when I started this many cashiers seemed to not know what to do with a reusable bag, but nowadays reusable bags are really catching on. Most cashiers are used to them now.

I needed a few more bags so I bought some at the 99 Cents Only Store. These were made of cloth and not quite as indestructible as the Trader Joe’s bags, but they had a distinct feature – they had longer handles so I could actually carry bags of groceries on my shoulders.

Now, thanks to my reusable bags, I can carry two bags on my shoulders and two or three bags in my hands all in one trip upstairs to my apartment. That’s nice. I like carrying all the groceries in one trip.

The cloth reusable bags are washable. If they tear they can be sewn back together. The plastic reusable bags do not go through the washing machine very well (I have tried this), but they can be hand washed in a sink or simply sprayed with cleanser and wiped with a wet cloth. For those who are very concerned about germs and bacteria, both kinds can be washed in a little bleach water too.

After I unload my groceries or other purchases I hang my reusable bags by the front door so I can take them back out to the car with me next time I leave. This way I always have my bags with me in the car.

Now that I have grown accustomed to reusable bags I can’t imagine living without them. They are stronger than plastic bags, they hold more stuff, they don’t fall over too easily and the cloth bag handles can even be tied at the top to keep things in.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky hopes to pass a plastic bag ban in L.A. County. I hope he succeeds. But we don’t have to wait for a new law. Plastic bags are useless. Reusable bags are wonderful. Everyone should use them.

I still have my first Trader Joe’s bag. I think it’s about two years old. It has no tears, no rips, or damage and it cost $.99 .


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