On the Friday afternoon before Easter I stood at the end of the supermarket checkout and waited for a friend to finish shopping. Buyers were served together, and conveyor belts filled with food were bagged and loaded into carts.
Meanwhile, other food carts swept past me, their purchases shrouded in white plastic clouds. I couldn’t help but wonder where all these bags would end up.
Although attitudes have been gradually changing in recent years, we Americans still love our plastic. This was calculated by a study conducted in 2014 100 billion disposable plastic bags are thrown away every year in the United States. Where will all this plastic go?
While some are recycled to create products such as Trex lumber used for flooring, millions of pounds end up in oceans and landfills that take thousands of years to destroy. They pose a danger to both birds and marine life, which suffocate pieces of plastic and are often suffocated by discarded purchases.
In addition to the environmental hazards posed by the use of plastic bags, their production requires billions of pounds of fossil fuels and billions of gallons of fresh water. The cost of this process is passed on to our grocery stores, which is then passed on to the overpricing of food.
But change along the way.
A ban on use will be introduced on May 4 plastic bags came into force in our neighboring state of New Jersey. This means that grocery stores and other retailers that exceed a certain size will no longer be able to distribute plastic bags to their customers.
In addition, they will ban the use of foam containers. Plastic straws, another danger to marine animals, will be distributed only on request.
Wegmans market is taking similar measures, promising to stop using plastic bags in all its stores by the end of this year. Other U.S. states have passed laws similar to New Jersey’s, and Pennsylvania is likely to eventually follow suit.
At the same time, why wait to be forced to change our habits when we know it is in the interest of both our environment and the economy?
I admit it took me a while to come, and there are still sometimes times when I miss this plastic bag. It’s awkward to argue with a crazy store seller who knocks your purchase into a bag almost before you have time to blink.
It may take time to change old habits, but with commitment and creativity new habits can become a way of life. These are some practical tips that I found useful to reduce the use of plastic bags.
· Store reusable bags in your car:
A common problem with reusable bags is just forgetting that you need them while you’re out of the store. Always keeping them in the back seat of my car, I had no chance of forgetting them.
After each grocery trip, as soon as I unpacked my bags, they immediately return to my car, ready for the next walk. It’s also a good idea to overestimate the number of bags you’ll need to not stay at the checkout.
· Buy folding nylon bags for other purchases:
The nice thing about these small lightweight bags is that they can be easily stored in a handbag, backpack or glove compartment. I use them for a quick trip to the drugstore and other outlets when I’m not buying food. Many gift shops sell these decorative bags and you can also purchase them online.
· Get reusable packages for products:
These little mesh bags, resembling bags used for washing clothes, are often available in supermarkets or can be purchased online. They will save you from trying to open these annoyingly shaky plastic ones, and you can throw them in the washing machine if you need to freshen them up.
· Skip the bag completely:
Agree, how often do we buy only one or two items that don’t really need a bag? Just be sure to keep the receipt, at least until you leave the store.
· Recycle or recycle:
There are several ways to recycle plastic bags and ship them in a container at your supermarket. While Allentown Ecumenical Food Bank is fast to turn into reusable bags, many food pantries need plastic bags for their customers.
There are churches and charities that collect plastic bags and cut them into strips called planns. These strips are then woven into rugs that are donated to the homeless. When a commonly discarded product is used to create something new, it’s called upcycling.
In 2021 Pew Research Center survey, 80% of respondents said they were willing to make changes in their lives to reduce global warming. However, only 56% believed that society is doing a good job in solving environmental problems.
Sometimes we can feel frustrated and helpless to solve all the problems that affect the environment. But reducing the use of plastic bags is one small change we can make now.
And one small change, multiplied many times over, will eventually reap a big impact.
Lynn Shelley, a resident of South Whitehall, worked as a library media specialist in the Parkland School District.