Ditch The Plastic Bags

The little plastic grocery bag.  It has become quite the hot topic.  Plastic bag bans and fees are popping up around the world.  Just last week, Brookline, MA became the second Massachusetts town to ban plastic bags.  The first in Massachusetts was Nantucket in 1990!  But what is the big deal with plastic bags?  Why are they so bad?  

I wrote about The Problems with Plastics in Greene Westford column in May 2011.  Here are the reasons stated in that article.


Plastic never goes away!  Yes these bags can be recycled (at grocery stores NOT curbside).  However, this is only possible a few times. Each time plastics are recycled, they are degraded.  Eventually, recycling is no longer possible and they must get thrown away.  In a landfill, it can take up to 1,000 years to decompose.  Even then, plastics actually photo degrade which releases toxins into the soil, air, and water.  Ironic that plastics are long lasting, yet they are mostly used for disposable items like water bottles and ziptop baggies

Recycling Rates are very low.  Many people don’t know or take the time to recycle the bags so the recycling rate is very low.  Numbers varied, but it is less than 5%.

Plastic pollutes the oceans.  Lots of plastic makes it way to the oceans (heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch?).  In the oceans, plastic bags can strangle animals or they mistake plastic bits for food.  Not such a healthy meal for them.  Or us!  Guess who is eating those fish?  

Plastic contains toxic chemicals.  Plastics contain 2 chemicals that are of particular interest – bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.  These chemicals can leach into foods where they are then ingested.  Both of these chemicals mimic estrogen and can disrupt our own hormones.   Effects of exposure to these hormone disruptors include immune dysfunction, metabolic disorders (diabetes) and reproductive problems. Infants and small children are most vulnerable to BPA.   

Plastics are made from oil.  The same oil that is used to produce gasoline.  Oil, as we know, is not going to last indefinitely.  It is estimated that 10% of the world’s oil supply is used for creating plastics. 

So those are the big picture reasons.  Let’s make this a little more personal.


Plastic bags are a pain to deal with  Reusable bags are so much easier to carry.  You can sling them on your shoulder and they don’t dig into your fingers cutting off the circulation.

Save Money.   Many stores give discounts – Target, Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop give you 5 cents per bag. Roche Brothers give 5 cents for their bags to Children’s Hospital.   Make sure to ask at Target, they often forget.

Oh I can hear it now.  “Yes but those reusable bags are full of bacteria!  And what if my meat leaks in them.”  Um, you wash your clothes right?  You wash your counter after meat juice leaks all over the place, right?  WASH THE BAGS!

I was recently told about this Plastic Bag Ban Map.  It shows what is going on worldwide with plastic bag bans and fee programs.


I had a lot of fun looking around.  A few things struck me:

  • Notice that MANY island nations and those bordering the ocean have instituted some sort of reduction measures.  They see the destruction first hand.
  • Many countries, The. Entire. Country, has a bag ban in place: Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Taiwan, and China are among them.
  • The red pins represent the failures.  I was saddened to see that most of the red pins are in the US.

There are opportunities here.  Opportunities = Jobs, Money, Growth.  Washington DC instituted a bag fee.  All of the money collected would go toward cleaning up the Anacostia river. Plastic bags made up 21% of the trash is this river and 40% in its tributaries.   Guess what happened?  People brought their own bags and the fee generated only half the revenue expected!

If you live in Massachusetts, you might be forced to consider this switch soon.   State Rep. Lori Ehrlich will be co-sponsoring a bill to ban the bags in Massachusetts.  She will bring this bill to session this January.

I hope this gains momentum.  I am afraid that an outright ban will most likely fail in Massachusetts.  As I looked around at articles online about Brookline’s ban, I kept seeing comments to the tune of “I don’t want big government telling me what to do.”  “I reuse my bags!”  Not that people want more fees in “Taxachusetts”, but I think it might be less of a sting to people.  Well, maybe a different sting.

Do You Use Reusable Bags?

This post is shared at Small Footprints Friday

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12 Responses to Ditch The Plastic Bags

  1. Thank you so much for these great facts about plastic bags and giving the inspiration to go reusable!

  2. crunchyfarmbaby December 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Unfortunately, the US is always behind on environmental issues like this. 🙁 My family lives in Italy and you just don’t see plastic bags anywhere – everything goes in reusable bags!

  3. Sarah @ Natures Nurture December 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

    Yes! We definitely use reusable bags, and any plastic bags we do end up acquiring, just get reused around the house – never thrown out anymore! I grew up with plastic being such a normal thing, and disposing of it in the trash was a thoughtless act. Now I look back and think “how could we have done that? why wasn’t I taught better? And those who taught me, why weren’t they taught better?” And now that we have a little one, and we’re full on into green living mode, reusing and recycling are just second nature to us, and our kids will see that through our actions. Also, we’ve been living in Toronto, Canada for 4 years now, where there is a bag ban, and although lots of people don’t like it, the majority are ok with it… Toronto is a pretty progressive and “green” population. I hadn’t even heard of a bag ban before moving here, and now I’m advocating it all around, as long as the fees collected get put to good use, of course!

    Great article, Kristina!

    • Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) December 4, 2012 at 12:40 am #

      Thanks Sarah! I feel like I grew up sort of green, but we didn’t call it that. My grandparents all emigrated here, so my parents were first generation Americans. My grandparents did things the old fashioned way – that meant reusing, repairing, making do with what you had. Also, they didn’t have much money so they had to. Once my parents started doing better and prices came down – i.e. cheap goods were more plentiful – out went the frugality. “We don’t have to reuse things because we can afford to buy new things.” I hope going forward, people see the real cost of cheap goods.

  4. Dave Weis December 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm #

    (Hubby’s account) We use reusable bags, and I LOVE it! You are so right – you get to keep circulation in your fingers. I hope everyone converts!

  5. Good Girl Gone Green December 3, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    Love this interactive map!!!!!

  6. Rebecca December 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

    We have a bag ban petition going on change.org for Philly. Hopefully, we will get enough signatures to move it along. I’d love to see my town take a stand too!

    • Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) December 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

      I would just love for people to “get it” more and use reusables – however that happens. Sad that is has to be some sort of legislation to get the ball rolling. Good luck Rebecca!

  7. Dawn December 19, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    This is a great post! Plastic bags are such a waste of our precious resources and such a hazard to the environment! Thanks for linking up to Small Footprint Friday!

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