In the furor over single-use plastic bags for carrying groceries home, let us not forget produce, meat, and bulk-food bags. Weekly shoppers probably buy 5-20 items that might get put in a plastic bag. For an example, let’s use 10 per week. Over a 50-year period 26,000 bags would be used (10 x 52 = 520 x 50 = 26,000). That’s a lot of bags and resources used to make, transport, and even recycle them.
Plastic produce, meat, and bulk-food bags do have some value. It’s an efficient way to corral a large quantity of say apples for more efficient handling for the shopper, checkout clerk, and bagger. Bagging wet items like lettuce helps keep other items in one’s grocery bag stay dry. What about meat, I would not put a plastic wrapped package of raw meat in my reusable shopping bag without an additional layer of protection. Bags are useful for buying cereal and beans from the bulk-food bins. But when was it decided a separate bag was needed for each item or even at all?
Be Mindful at the Grocery Market
- Most bags are used in the produce aisle so there is a real opportunity to reduce bag use here. Don’t just automatically put everything in a bag.
- Do 2 bell peppers actually need their own bag? How about 6 oranges? Surely a bunch of bananas does not need a bag.
- Instead of buying potatoes in a bag or mushrooms in box, try a reusable produce bag.
- Put 2 packages of meat in a bag back to back. The checkout clerk merely needs to flip the package over to scan the other side. This could reduce meat bag use by 50%.
- Stores with meat counters may offer butcher paper. It is often waxed or oiled to make the paper resistant to leaks and cannot be recycled, but it can be composted by tearing it into small strips.
- Or eat less meat, that works too.
- Buying food in bulk like cereal, nuts, pasta, and coffee beans, not only saves money it is also uses less packaging to start with.
- Fill the bag up, that’s what buying in bulk is all about.
Reusable Produce / Bulk-Food Bags
Consider trying reusable produce / bulk-food bags which come in a variety of materials, sizes, and price ranges. Benefits include:
- Versatility, will hold a little or a lot, depending on style and material may be used for produce and bulk-foods.
- Generally are light weight so don’t add extra cost on the scale.
- Produce codes can easily be viewed and scanned.
- Can be used for storage too.
- May be washed and reused.
- Some are recyclable at the end of their useful life.
Reusable bags do use resources during manufacturing and transport, some are made of plastic, and water and energy are used during washing. However the fact they can be reused over and over and over seems to make them the environmentally-friendlier option.
- Save plastic bags and bring them back on your next grocery market visit and fill them up again. (I don’t reuse meat bags, but we do eat less meat.)
- If your store allows you to bring your own washable containers then you are lucky, take advantage of this.
- Ask your grocery market manager to provide bags made from plant sources that are compostable. It’s important to note If these bags end up in a landfill they will not biodegrade and they are still single-use bags.
- Bring bags back to the market for recycling. It may take a few weeks to get used to doing this but it is definitely worth it and better than just throwing them away.
Not into reusing plastic bags or reusable bags? Then make a point of not using a bag for 3 lemons. Or try the back to back meat trick. With just a small effort, we can all reduce plastic bag use.