I recently read an article discussing the benefits of reusable shopping bags, something I see occasionally but have not given much thought to despite seeing pictures of animals desperately trying to escape a plastic bag someone carelessly allowed to meander in the public domain. Reading the article, I also recalled how surprised I was when several weeks ago I actually took the time to read the lid of the recyclable garbage container to learn that plastic is not allowed. I have learned that the cost to recycle plastic bags outweighs their value, so most recycling facilities do not accept them so they are thrown out with the rest of the trash. Things I’ve learned about plastic and paper bags…

  • An estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic. The animals confuse floating bags and plastic particles for edible sea life such as jellyfish and plankton. Once ingested, the plastic blocks the digestive tract and the animals starve to death. Other animals drown after becoming entangled in plastic waste.
  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been collecting plastic bag statistics for more than a decade, roughly 2% of plastic bags are recycled in the United States. The rest are left to live on indefinitely in landfills or decompose in our oceans, where they leech toxins into the water and soil.
  • Because of their light weight, plastic bags in landfills don’t always stay in the landfills in which they are deposited. They frequently fly away and can settle in trees, block storm drains, and clutter beaches.
  • Plastic bags are made from petroleum products and natural gas, both non-renewable resources, and their manufacture helps to drive up gas prices.
  • It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags that the U.S. uses every year.
  • Think paper bags are better? Think again. The U.S. cuts down 14 million trees a year to supply the raw material to make paper shopping bags.
  • It takes 13% more energy to make a single paper bag than to make two plastic bags.
  • Paper bag production involves the use of chemicals and high temperatures, and it releases toxins into the atmosphere at nearly the same rate as plastic bag production.
  • Paper bags weigh almost ten times as much as plastic ones, and that means that more fuel is required to ship them to stores.
  • Despite being highly recyclable, only 20% of paper bags end up being recycled, while the rest share a fate with their plastic brethren.
  • In landfills, paper bags create more than twice as much atmospheric waste as plastic ones do, so they’re not necessarily a better choice for the environment.
  • Ireland was the first European country to impose a tax on plastic bags. The nation has decreased its plastic shopping bag use by 90% since 2002, cutting overall plastic bag use by 1.08 billion.

With those thoughts and others in mind, I decided I would do my share to make the world a better place to live in. Mrs. tVM and I purchased 10 reusable shopping bags on Amazon for less than $30. Each bag is advertised to hold up to 50 lbs., which the ad claims to equate to “2-3 bags of grocery stuff.”

Wednesday is our grocery day because the local store, Family Fresh offers a 10% senior discount on Wednesdays. Apply that to your own weekly grocery bill and you can see why we go to Family Fresh on Wednesdays, plus the fact that the people we encounter there – customers and employees – are very friendly. Yesterday was the first day we used our reusable bags. For starters, the claim is correct: each bag will hold up to 50 lbs. of groceries. The bags are strong and easy to carry.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we received a 5¢ discount/rebate on every reusable bag. We used five and received 25¢. If we did that every week, the bags would pay for themselves over a year.

Each bag folds “into itself” to make a 5”x5” easily stored and manageable packet. I keep a couple in the glove box of the vehicle. They are always handy.

Bottom line, when I weigh the benefits against the downside – and I can’t come up with a negative – there is no reason not to grocery shop with reusable bags. It may seem like an insignificant gesture, but the more shoppers who turn to reusable bags and say ‘no’ to plastic and paper… You do the math.

Ain’t none of us goin’ to make it out of this world alive, so we have to hang in there together. Let’s start with a small effort to use reusable bags.

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