More Ways to Cut Your Single-Use Plastic Bag Waste

How many plastic bags are hiding in your home?

Earth Globe Inside a Single-Use Plastic Bag

If you are truly committed to reducing your single-use plastic bag waste, getting a grip on your household’s out of sight out of mind plastic bags is essential.

What I mean by out of sight out of mind plastic bags are those bags that you store in various places around your home and garage that you have every intention of reusing but forget are there.

The reason I am bringing this up is that while I was writing the previous post entitled Three Easy Ways to Cut Your Single-Use Plastic Bag Waste, I decided to conduct an informal assessment of my own household’s multi-year single-use plastic bag waste reduction effort and discovered a lot more plastic bags than I expected.

At first, I was dismayed, but I quickly decided that my spouse and I had been presented with an excellent opportunity to ratchet up our reduction efforts a notch or two.

Perhaps you have plastic bags hiding in your home, too. Consider doing your own assessment and then decide what actions you can and want to take to reduce your own single-use plastic bag waste.

I began my evaluation by sifting through our household plastic bag and packaging collection so it might help to provide some background on that first.

Plastic Bag and Packaging Collection

Our plastic bag and packaging collection has its roots in our decision to switch to reusable shopping bags back in 2010.

To deal with our now bag-less kitchen garbage can and other household wastebaskets we decided to save and reuse all kinds of plastic bags that had previously held food items like bread, bagels, and tortillas, as well as cereal box liners and takeout bags. We also collected bags that had encased clothing, vinyl sheet bags, and any bag that came in a shipping box.

Single-Use Plastic Bag Collection
The box holds small bags and the crate holds larger bags for us reuse. The round tin stores packaging like toilet paper wrapping or torn plastic bags that we periodically drop off at our grocery market for recycling. Family members put bags in the canister with the “Put Bags Here” sign for later sorting.

When the single-use plastic bag ban came to our town in 2012, it did not affect us because we had already converted to reusable bags.

To help readers facing plastic bag bans in their own towns, I shared our experiences in You Can Live Without Single-Use Plastic Bags – Here’s How and I wrote Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives about dealing with yucky kitchen garbage.

We also began reusing plastic produce bags and zip-top bags and my spouse made a handy plastic bag drying rack.

Single-Use Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Assessment

For years, we did not bring home disposable grocery shopping bags, did not buy kitchen trash bags, and rarely purchased a box of zip-top bags or plastic cling wrap. Our system seemed to be working. Yet, I was wondering if we really were doing as well as we thought we were in reducing our single-use plastic bag waste and could we do better.

Once I had emptied our plastic bag and packaging collection onto the dining room table, things quickly got out of hand. I found myself scouring the house and garage looking for plastic bags that might not have made it to the laundry room and asking family members if they had any plastic bags tucked away anywhere.

After piling all the plastic bags that I could find on the dining room table, I sorted them into categories and counted them.

Pile of Single-Use Plastic Bags and Packaging on Dining Room Table
I found more single-use plastic bags in our house and garage than I expected.

Of course, the list below is only a snapshot of the plastic bags we had on hand when I did the assessment.

1 – Trash bag (not used)
1 – Seed bag (at 2″ x 4″ this was the smallest bag)
1 – Full-size mattress moving bag (at 54″ x 48″ this was the largest bag)
1 – Extra large bag that had contained a 3D printer
2 – Large rectangular sheets of plastic
5 – 5-pound coffee bean bags
6 – Shipping items (envelope, bubble wrap bag, air packs)
8 – Large bags (big enough for a comforter)
10 – Warranty manual bags (with manuals still in them)
10 – Hotel laundry bags
11 – Food bags that had held things like hamburger buns and spinach
15 – Sheet bags (we reuse to organize clothes and shoes in our luggage)
18 – Produce bags (including zip-top, we reuse these at the market)
19 – Wrappings from things like toilet paper and paper towels
20 – Bags from items bought online like clothes and kayak gear
22 – Shopping bags (mostly for takeout food)
106 – Various size bags that previously held stuff for my spouse’s job
256 – Grand Total

Wow, that is a lot of plastic bags and packaging. Imagine how many plastic bags would have been passing through our house on the way to the dump if we had not been actively trying to reduce plastic bag waste.

Conclusions

First, I had to acknowledge that I had been naive to think we could ever reuse all the single-use plastic bags and packaging coming into our home, even after a massive reduction.

Second, our society definitely has a single-use plastic bag problem. Why does a t-shirt need to be put in a plastic bag before putting it in a plastic shipping envelope or a cardboard box? Who invented freezer burn and do we really need special plastic freezer bags? Why is the default position at most stores to put your purchase in a disposable plastic or paper bag regardless of if it is only one greeting card or a prescription bottle?

Third, I pondered why we were still holding onto the larger bags after more than a decade. Surely, we could have found a use for them or cut them up for other purposes. It was almost as if we were afraid we would never get a large bag again so we needed to hold onto them (for what?).

Lastly, I realized that our highest volume of bags relates to my spouse’s job as a lighting designer who builds prototypes in our garage workshop.  The hardware store in our small town is well stocked but it does not carry all the supplies, materials, and equipment my spouse needs for work. It would be difficult if not impossible to stop the flow of these bags into our garage.

Next, my spouse and I discussed what we could and should do to decrease our single-use plastic bag waste further.

Plastic Bag Reduction Challenge Round Two

Reusing a bag more than once does not wipe out its environmental footprint but it does decrease it and reduces the need for new bags.

To solve the out of sight out of mind problem, we decided to store all plastic bags and packaging in easy to access places in our kitchen and adjoining laundry room. I think any centralized place would work as long as your family members know where it is.

My spouse and I divided the hotel laundry bags and put them in our suitcases so that we will stop collecting new bags. When these bags wear out, we can switch to pillowcases or bags we already have on hand.

I put one of the big plastic sheets in each of our cars so it would already be there when we need to transport something dirty or wet.

To force us to reuse bags I cleared out our small supply of new plastic bags and packaging from a kitchen drawer and put them in the back of a cupboard in the laundry room. This included a box of sandwich bags, a box of freezer bags, and a roll of cling wrap. I filled the drawer with clean bags that had already held food or with other bags that I had washed out with soapy water and dried on my plastic bag dryer.

These are small incremental steps but imagine the positive impact you, me, and everyone else could have if we all cut our single-use plastic bag waste.

Now it is your turn to do your own single-use plastic bag waste reduction challenge.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe Inside a Single-Use Plastic Bag – Photo Credit iStock/Irina Krolevetc.

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Author: Linda Poppenheimer

Linda researches and writes about environmental topics to share information and to spark conversation. Her mission is to live more lightly on Earth and to persuade everyone else to do the same.

One thought on “More Ways to Cut Your Single-Use Plastic Bag Waste”

  1. Ouch… my work is more than a third by count!
    “106 – Various size bags that previously held stuff for my spouse’s job
    256 – Grand Total”
    Is there “bag-offset credit” for telecommuting?
    🙂

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