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Plastic bags

Oct 18, 2010

I noticed for the first time when we went shopping this weekend that more and more shops are now charging for plastic bags. Target sells compostable plastic bags.

I must admit have been a bit lax in the plastic bag department. Some reasons: (excuses, if you like!)

1. We re-use the supermarket bags in our little kitchen garbage bin.
2. I keep forgetting my green bags in the car and only remember when I get to the checkout.
3. I have a very cute little storage bag for used plastic bags in the kitchen.
4. We never throw them out or re-cycle them, every one of them is re-used.
5. I actually thought they were all now compostable!

So I have decided to be a little more pro-active and in response to the above excuses will take the following steps:

1. All of the veggie peelings and messy stuff goes into the compost, tins and bottles go into the re-cycling, so really the rubbish can just go straight into the bin and then get thrown into the large wheelie bin. Maybe we will pick up a few cardboard boxes to keep the wheelie bin clean, or wrap messy stuff in newspaper.
2. I found a cute design for roll up tote bags and will make some of those that fit into a small area so that I can easily carry them with me - no excuses anymore!
3. Maybe I can use that bag for cloth rags instead. we never buy paper towels anymore so use cloth rags!
4. In actual fact if they are used to throw out the rubbish we are throwing them into the landfill!
5. Just goes to show I need to be more informed!

I have already made some little cotton veggie bags to store veggies in the fridge and they do work better than plastic. I just need to remember to take them in to the store so that I don't even put the veggies into plastic at the store end.
There is so much information out there, and a lot of it is trying to sell a product, so is skewed in that direction.
The green bags that everyone thinks are the answer are manufactured overseas, so there goes the buying local theory. Looks like I will get out the sewing machine and use up all my scraps to make some re-usable grocery bags. They will then also be made of cotton and not the polypropylene that the supermarket green bags are made of.
There is talk of re-using bags without washing between uses to be unsanitary. I will use the plastic lined bags for meat, and those can be washed each time (or wiped down with a light bleach solution.)
So it seems that this simple shift in thinking has opened a can of worms.
What does everyone else do? any ideas or suggestions to make this path of ours easier? What are your thoughts?


Thanks for some interesting ideas. In SA we have to pay for all plastic bags, and I must say that the number of plastic bags blowing around in the wind has decreased a lot over the last year or two. Just like the ban on smoking in offices and public places, the ban on free plastic bags met with major resistance for a while, but has now been accepted by the shopping public. Many shoppers bring their own shopping bags, and others just carry the items out of the store unwrapped. It has brought about a bit tighter security at store exits, but no serious discomfort to shoppers. I am a big supporter of the "anti-plastic" campaigns, we simply must reduce the amount of plastic produced and used. Everybody seems to be walking around with a bottle of "pure spring water", but the environmental impact is huge. Unfortunately in the garden centre industry we do not have cheap alternatives available, so it will take a while to get rid of plastic flowerpots and seedling containers. We have tried collecting the used or damaged stuff for recycling, but nobody is interested - they say the cost of collecting, cleaning and reworking is too high. We are successfully recycling glass and paper, and all organic waste becomes good compost.
We have used the same excuses for not taking our cloth shopping bags into the market. Fortunately, we have a good recycling program in our city, so very little garbage is sent to the landfill. We do use the bags for dog poop when they go for a city walk. All vegetable food scraps go to the worm bin or compost pile, as do any lawn and tree trimmings. Trying hard to keep our footprints green. Any pest control or fertilizers used are certified organic for the health of our pets and ourselves. Now if the power plants, concrete plants, and other industries will clean up instead of getting waivers from our state agencies, we could have a decent air quality. Also, when I buy some products I hope the product is as tough as the plastic packaging. Great blog! Stay natural, David
Sounds as though you are doing great. Yes the big guys need to be more responsible, but I dont think our little voices are getting heard! too true about the tough packaging.
Yes I noticed when I visited my mother a couple of years ago that they were all re-using their plastic bags. I saw an interesting video on making packing containers out of mushrooms.. I wonder if that would work for plant containers? Very interesting concept. Those water bottles are a worry - I find lots of them washed up on the beaches.
Yes, we also have plastic on the beaches. Very bad for sea life. In a radio talk about a month ago a professor in environmental affairs stated that there is an area of about a square kilometer (?) somewhere in the ocean where all the plastic rubbish converges due to the sea currents. I cannot remember exactly where it is. It is apparently well known and ships avoid the area. On another program I heard that the biggest cause of damage to ships worldwide is the intake of plastic waste which blocks the propellers and cooling systems. A cheap dumping ground for all our waste products?
Hi Faan The pacific is a large collecting area for plastic waste and it is having a detrimental effect on the wildlife there. There was a horizon programme on TV that showed the remains of seabirds nests. In the nests were the bones of dead chicks and among the bones were pieces of plastic that the parents had fed to the chicks. I agree with all that i have read here. We have been using hessian shopping bags now for a few years. The supermarkets still provide plastic bags in England, so some people still use them. To be honest the thin plastic bags are crappy anyway. You should have see me cry when a bottle of wine fell through the bottom of the plastic bag and smashed on the floor. Regards Glenn Repeat the link
Thanks for the link Glenn - it is the most informative I have seen in years of watching the space of trash accumulating in the oceans. In 1987 my son Richard reported sailing through a shocking amount of trash as they returned Drumbeat from Hawaii to California after a TransPac race. His best friend & boat-building partner Eric was skipper for the return trip & hired him to fly over & crew back. Rich said they were working through massive seas at night on this “90-ft racing sled” when the keel hung up on a trash Japanese drift-net, they could not steer & cross-wise took a deadly pounding. As skipper, Eric harnessed up to dive under the boat & cut it free. These boys were extreme skiers from Sun Valley, Idaho. Rich said Eric paused on the edge so long they had to “talk him over the side.” He succeeded & sails on to this day. Since then we all advise deep-water sailors to keep a pair of sharp Felco pruning shears well-oiled & on a wrist-tether, because it is not easy to cut through plastic fishing net, even with a good knife.
No story of the ocean garbage patches would be complete without the work Chris Jordan has done in documenting this critical consequence of consumer lifestyles around the world. JSS "These photographs of albatross chicks were made in September, 2009, on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking." "To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent." ~cj, Seattle, October 2009 "Update: this project is expanding in scope as the metaphor of Midway continues to unfold. My team and I will be returning to Midway in July and September of this year, and again in the spring, to photograph and film the effects of plastic pollution on the lifecycle of the albatross at several different stages. We will blog live from the island, and a documentary film is in the works. Please stay tuned." ~cj, Seattle, May 2010 Jordan's 112 page book, including 60 color illustrations, is available for purchase on his website: & you can view more photographs from Midway: Message from the Gyre [2009].
- some of them still unexplored. The Atlantic Garbage Patch was cited recently on Paul Kedrosky's blog: Infectious Greed, which focuses on the financial world as seen through the filter of global cultures.
Jessica, those photos taken of the contents of the albatrosses stomachs is very disturbing. In my earlier years I too sailed around the world on a sailboat (for 17 years) . Amazingly we went on board a racing boat called Drumbeat too at one stage, but the crew would have been different in 1985. wonder if it would have been the same one. (small world) Floating bits of rubbish can wreak havok in many different circumstances, and we would often practice our man overboard routine and pick up floating garbage. It is very sad that as custodians of this beautiful earth we have not taken very good care of it. When plastics were first invented they were going to "change the world" and they have. In some ways in a good way, but there have been other devastating side effects that we need to be realistic about and face up to. One is the fact that it never, ever goes away - just ends up in millions of little pieces. will all the beaches consist of billions of pieces of plastic one day? Maybe the world is moving too fast and a lot of these new ideas and inventions will become problems in the future. How do you stop advancement just long enough to make sure nothing is going to be harmed in the process?
Your 17 years of sailing was good background for the can-do expertise you share now! No wonder you whipped out that irrigation system from idea-to-installation & w/photos! I'll ask Eric if he was on Drumbeat in 1985. Where-abouts in the world did you meet Drumbeat? I have a pb-excuse to add to your list: I have asked the checker, “Could I have a plastic bag for the papers? I’m on my bike!” Talk about compromised virtue! It might be good to publish the pattern for that roll-up cloth shopping bag. I think there would be a brisk market for cloth bags if a pattern were developed to stand up over time. You’d want some variety of pattern & plain types. I have a big old black canvas shoulder bag that suffices, since I live in our old-town & shop often by bike rather than stock up on fresh food - plus I eat from the gardens where I assist this season. Kind of like village life in Europe. When I first read your interesting message, one thought that sprang to mind was the corn-plastic food containers that look as if they function well. But when I checked the current status online, Smithsonian magazine reports that while they are seen by some as a gesture in the right direction, they are not going to make a difference any time soon because they require high-temp technical composting & there are few such facilities that accept trash input from the public. The main corn-plastic manufacturer is owned by Cargill in the industrial ag sector. Will Brinton of Woods End Labs has called their “compostable” claims false advertising & Lester Brown, founder of the WorldWatch institute, questions the use of arable land for products other than nourishing food. The article adds to the succinct, well-quantified look at the swift history of using plastics provided by Glenn's link. And it would be a good basis for a review of one’s local public composting capabilities.
I heard recently that a crisp manufacturer in the UK is going to try make crisp packets out of the waste potato peelings. I suppose it is a win, win situation for them, but a good idea non the less. A few years ago now one of my brothers in law tried to make bio-degradable golf tees out of sugar beet waste. He never did manage to perfect it. Glenn
Jessica, Special composting methods... mm interesting thought, although that link only led to an "oops, wrong link" for me. I think we often accept something at face value and think we are doing something good. It does make sense that they would require some specialised treatment. the claim is that the bags break down in three months - well what if the store kept them in stock for four months? - would they all disintergrate? I think we went onto Drumbeat somewhere in the south Pacific. All I remember is that one of the crew had a very jumpy little monkey called Minky Monkey. My little girls were fascinated, but also a little afraid of it! Our boat was a little 30ft yellow boat called Vemvaan.
Some day maybe you can write us a blog post about what your ocean-going version of kitchen gardening was like in those 17 years of sailing.
- with the quotation marks. I double-checked Gillian's "oops wrong link" on the link above & got that same "oops", then searched as above & found the article, with the same, identical url/link. Annals of Internet mysteries ...
- and surfaces several times in this thread. Unforeseen repercussions from many actions can come back to bite you. Here's an exerpt from Glenn's link - about the way plastics were invented in the spirit of biomimetics - that is, while trying to replicate "nature's way" ... "When Leo Baekeland, a Belgian chemist, started tinkering around in his garage in Yonkers, New York, working on the first synthetic polymer, who could have foreseen that a hundred years later plastic would outweigh plankton six-to-one in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Baekeland was trying to mimic shellac, a natural polymer secreted by the Asian scale beetle and used at the time to coat electrical wires. In 1909 he patented a mouldable hard plastic that he called Bakelite, and which made him very rich indeed."
Glen that is very funny, although quite sad since the skins have more vitamins than the potatoes.! well actually just under the skins, but I am sure they dont peel them that thinly. sun chips already have a comostable bag, but you do wonder how they compost since Jessica said that they require a different process.
- edible bags!
I think you two have hit the nail on the head. Buy a bag of crisps. Open the bag. Chuck the crisps away because they are bad for you. Eat the bag. Perfect!!!

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