Happy Earth Day, Earthlings! What are you doing to make your home a better place? If that answer is “nothing,” get out your craft supplies because today we’re taking on plastic bags.
Whether you’re going to the mall, the grocery store, or just to lunch, it’s easy to give in to the ubiquity of plastic. Plastic bags are cheap or free, they’re durable and they’re convenient. But you know what they say about a free lunch: somebody’s paying for it somewhere. From production to disposal, plastic bags are doing more harm than good. The oil used to make them (more than 1.6 billion gallons each year) is only the beginning of the problem. Although they’ve been around for 30 years, no one can figure out quite how to get rid of all those plastic bags. Burning them releases toxins; burying them in landfills creates barriers for water, worms and bacteria that break down trash; and dumping them in oceans and other forgotten corners of the earth destroys habitats and turns otherwise adorable creatures into pathetic animals who exist solely to be photographed and shown on websites about pollution. Recycling is a good option, but right now only 1% of all plastic bags make their way to recycling plant. Oy vey.
In the spirit of refusing, reducing, reusing and recycling (I’m still trying to come around to “rot,” you guys), we’re going to explore some of the alternatives to plastic. Switching from plastic to something a little more earth-friendly doesn’t seem like much, but it’s an easy way to cut out waste that comes from choosing habits over a little bit of contemplation.
Don’t know how to sew? No problem! All you need to make this bag is a t-shirt, a pair of scissors, and a safety pin. Plus it’s fringey and hippy and useful for all kinds of things.
Since we’re starting with the simple stuff, let’s talk about what works for those of you who are craft-challenged. Namely baggu bags. These babies are made from ripstop nylon, carry up to 25 pounds, are machine washable and fold into tiny 5” square pouches. I can see myself carrying one of these in my day-to-day bag in case of a shopping emergency.
After totally losing it upon realizing just how much money I was spending on ziploc bags, I decided there’s got to be a better way to pack my lunch. With a little inspiration from the Zero Waste Home, I started wrapping my sandwiches and pretzels in bandanas instead of baggies.
One of the biggest advantages of using cloth instead of plastic for sandwiches is breathability. Throwing a just-toasted sandwich in a baggie pretty much guarantees that you’ll be dealing with either melted plastic or a soggy sandwich come lunchtime. Wrapping it in fabric keeps your sandwich fresh and holds all the inside stuff in place so it don’t go sliding out of the bread before you’re ready to eat.
I haven’t yet figured out how to make a good bulk bag, but someone on Etsy has! Like handkerchiefs, these bags have a touch of the furoshiki about them.
Old knit hats that are too cute to throw away but too small to wear can be repurposed as--you guessed it--bags. I mostly use my hat bags to organize smaller things inside my everyday bag (see Riese’s kit for surviving in New York).
Ladies, start your bobbins. T-shirt produce bags take all of 5 minutes to stitch up and are a lovely substitute for those plastic tissue bags they have in the fruit and veg aisle at the grocery. Delia points out that they’re also great for sandals on the beach, but I don’t see what’s stopping you from using them to hold everything you own that's not secret or small enough to squeeze through the holes.
Grocery store bags
One of the great things about the commodification of environmentalism is how easy it is to find cute grocery bags. Everyone from Whole Foods to Kroger carries some version of the heavy-duty paper-or-plastic-alternative and most of them only cost $1. I use these guys for serious trips to the grocery store and for lugging dirty clothes to the laundromat.
When you’re toting something breakable--like glass--or otherwise damageable--like a banana--around with you, it’s a good idea to give it a little structure. These bags from a squared w use a cardboard shipping box as a skeleton so that your sensitive things have a special place to call their home.