GREEN IS GOOD
by Meg White
As you may or may not recall, I pledged last week to go one month without the reusable plastic shopping bags that have been banned in a number of localities (though not in my city). And as promised, here is my update on week one of my attempt to go plastic bag-less.
Over all, I’ve been successful, but that’s not to say I’ve been plastic-free. My swear-jar system seems to be working, though. As I laid out in my introduction last week:
I will charge myself (to be deposited in a glass change jar for each infraction) 10 cents every time I throw away plastic that is not commonly banned, such as the … Ziploc, plastic wrap or garbage liners. And I will charge myself the symbolic 33 cents the Irish pay if I catch myself using one of those naughty single-use bags, even if it is a second or third use.
I’ve racked up 80 cents in self-taxes so far. As you can tell from the even number of pennies, I haven’t fallen victim to the single-use bag temptation once since taking on this project. In general I recommend the self-tax method of plastic accounting. I like the fact that I have to think every time I throw away plastic, even if it isn’t the kind that gets all the political attention.
I’m also quite pleased with my old-fashioned metal lunchbox. Not only is it plastic-free, but it keeps my sandwiches from getting squished like no bag has been able to do as yet. Also, waxed paper and reusable Tupperware have replaced my need for zippered sandwich bags almost entirely. Yes, and this coming from the woman who just last week asked, “Can I survive a month without Ziploc?” Granted, I did toss out one Ziploc that had been keeping some cheese fresh in the fridge, for which I charged myself another 10 cents.
But by far the biggest culprit in my plastic usage in the last week has been bread. One bag held bagels, another pitas and the third was a loaf of sandwich bread. All three were tasty while they lasted (and the bagels and pita were baked right here in Chicago) but the bags are on their way to a landfill by now.
And how are they getting to that landfill? Well, via my convenient tall kitchen trash bag, which tacked another 10 cents onto this week’s tally.
Another 20 cents came from shopping, but not involving the actual bags that are targeted by the common de-plasticizing legislation. This problem comes from your local produce section. You know, those rolls and rolls of super-flimsy plastic in which shoppers gather their plums and potatoes? Well, I tried buying a single one of each item, placing just one naked grapefruit, for example, in my basket. This afforded more variety, though I did get one strange look from a checkout girl at the local market. But the employees at my co-op didn’t seem to mind.
I did have to slip on two items, though. In an impromptu onion pit-stop, I had forgotten to bring a tote. I knew I had to put the peel-y thing in my purse to get it home. Remembering how much effort it took to get all the flaky onion skin pieces out last time I did that, I opted for a produce bag. Second, in my quest to take home as many juicy peaches as I could, I felt it would be downright unkind to make the checkout girl gather them onto the scale for pricing without the requisite bag.
Then there was the dry cleaning bag. Now, traditional dry cleaning methods are so toxic that I feel bad enough doing it at all, even without considering the plastic wasted in the walk of shame on the way home. Granted, there are some greener dry cleaning services nowadays, and I encourage readers out there to look around their communities for such alternatives and/or make an effort to hand wash at home whenever possible.
But back to the plastic. I might consider getting something permanent (like this, say) to tote home my dry cleaning, but — to be fair — I only dry clean once or twice a year. And because it’s the season to finally get my down-feather winter jacket scrubbed of salt scum and all that other nasty winter stuff, this week happened to be the week that I ripped open that big sheet of plastic and packed my coat away for the summer.
In other Meg vs. single-use news, instead of piling on the plastic, I keep accumulating more reusable tote bags. The apartment-finding service I visited over the weekend gave me a free grocery-toter when I left their office. This underscores the point that even if you’re not a serial tote collector like I am, reusable bags are pretty easy to come by. The tote bag phenomenon has become a commercial enterprise like most anything else in this country, whether as an advertising aid or a point-of-sale impulse buy. It also happens to save stores money on the single-use bags they give out to customers for free.
Sure, they’re available at more and more retail shops on the cheap. But why carry around a reusable bag from Wal-Mart when you could vote with your tote dollars? You can go the political/environmental statement route with one of those “I am not a plastic bag” bags. Personally, I’m fond of the silliness factor of the tote for sale by satirical publication The Onion. You can even use your tote bag purchase to support the progressive newshound community.
Overall, it’s been a good week. Clearly, I haven’t gone completely without plastic. But I have made it without those single-use plastic bags, and I have to say that the executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme is probably right. Such bags “should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”
Are you playing along at home? Why or why not? And if you are trying to cut down on plastic, let me know how it’s coming. Join the discussion by commenting below. And be sure to tune in next Friday to find out my score for the coming week.
GREEN IS GOOD