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Plastic bags make our lives easier. It’s as simple as that. We go to the store and we’re holding at least 20 different odd shaped items in our arms, plastic bags provide a solution. They’re cheap to produce and highly versatile, but while these bags make our lives easier in the short-term, in the long-term they do the exact opposite.

You see, plastic bags never just go away. If they don’t end up stockpiled in a cabinet under your sink, they’re getting stuck on trees, dumped in landfills or washed into the ocean. When they make their way into the environment they wreak havoc on wildlife who don’t know that plastic is inedible. This causes animals to experience gastrointestinal problems, develop reproductive issues, and even suffocate. Plastic Pollution can be passed up the food chain and cause harm to other animals (or even humans). As bags break down they also leach harmful compounds, like BPA into the soil, water and air.

Plastic bags are also petroleum based. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are used every year, just to make plastic bags in the U.S. The average person throws out 10 plastic bags a week, meaning in an individual throws out 520 bags a year. You can drive your car for 60 miles with the same amount of oil that it used to make those 520 bags.

So we know that we should bring cloth or reusable bags with us when check out at grocery store, but there are many other places where plastic bags show up that we don’t even think about. In an effort to make us all just a little more conscious of our consumption habits, here are a few other places we should be on the look to for mindless plastic bag use.

1. Retail Stores

When you go to purchase pretty much anything, unless it comes in a cardboard box, chances are you will be handed a plastic bag at the check out counter (some places will even put the cardboard box in a plastic bag). When you’re out clothes shopping, every different store you purchase something from will give you a separate bag. Besides being a clever way to market brands, there is really no logical need to put three shirts in three separate bags. And this phenomenon is not exclusive to shopping for clothes, think about going to a book store, electronic store, or drug store – common denominator: plastic bags.

Avoiding plastic in all of these cases just requires some simple advance planning. Make an investment in a light-weight reusable tote bag that can fit in your pocket or purse, making it easy to have a reusable alternative wherever life takes you. Check out Baggu for some great options. Really any reusable bag that folds up and is easy to carry with you will do the trick.

2. Produce and Bulk Good Bags

Bringing a reusable bag to hold all of your groceries has become a relatively standard practice, but we still use the small plastic bags available in the produce and bulk goods sections of the grocery store. You might save yourself a few big plastic bags, however you still wind up stuck with five or more small ones. Not ideal.

One problem people face when switching over from disposable to reusable in this case is separating out different fruits and vegetables or dry bulk items when they get to the register. An easy way to avoid having to make the cashier dump all your items onto the scale – is planning ahead. If you know what vegetables, fruit and bulk items you’re buying you can plan accordingly and bring different reusable bags for each. Flip & Tumble makes produce bags that come with different color tags to help you differentiate items. You can also label bags for items you buy regularly. And just to be sure, always carry a few extra bags in case you’re hungry when shopping and end up buying something you hadn’t planned too (we all do it).

3. Pet Waste Disposal

It is a common fallacy that if you reuse a plastic bag to clean up after your dog or cat that that action justifies the bag. While the idea of repurposing plastic bags is admirable, the problem arises when we see rolls of plastic dog-waste bags in parks and stores. They’re like the produce bags of dog poop.

Even if you used the plastic bag to pick up after your pet, they are still ending up in landfills. Cats and dogs, combined, produce up to 10 million tons of waste every year and it ends up being preserved in plastic bags, sitting in landfills. It’s not a nice image, we know. Instead of reaching for a plastic bag, try biodegradable waste bags and litter. You can technically even compost your pet’s waste, but be mindful not to use this on edible plants.

4. Take-Out

There can be a lot of plastic waste involved in take out, but if you cut the plastic bag out of your Friday night take-out tradition it’s a great place to start. Some restaurants will pre-wrap your order for you in plastic so be sure to specify when you’re on the phone with them that you don’t need a bag.

You can use the same reusable bag you’d put your groceries in to pick up your food, or maybe you want to opt for an insulated bag that will keep your food warm. Check out some options, here.

If you’re ordering on Seamless or another delivery app, there is usually a section where you can add in special requests. For delivery, it’s a little harder to control what your food comes in, but it’s worth it to at least try and specify they use a paper bag instead of plastic – if possible.

5. Snack Bags

Tiny ziploc bags are great for packing lunches or snacks to go, but they also contribute to our plastic problem. Luckily, there are plenty of reusable snack bags that come in a variety of colors and patterns – great for school lunches – and they’re easy to clean and use again. You can go a step further in eliminating plastic waste by making your own snacks, instead of buying prepackaged granola bars of chips, and storing them in these handy reusable pouches.

Let’s #CrushPlastic! Click the graphic below for more information.


Image source: Erich Ferndinand/Flickr