Life without single-use plastic bags? Tote-ally awesome

using a canvas bag at the farmers market

Here I am, caught in action with one of my favorite canvas totes!

For anyone who has yet to practice forgoing the plastic bag from the store cashier upon checkout or a restaurant waitperson when leftovers are packaged to go, learning to just say no is a simple yet powerful act.

We’ve become accustomed to the presence and regular flow of these rustling little critters in our lives. They are versatile and always at the ready when needed – until you notice that there’s a hole in one, and you know how quickly these bags tear. The reject gets tossed in the trash, and you have to dig in the cupboard to find one without a hole.

But imagine, if you will, life without this convenience, or in the case of  bags with a hole – this inconvenience. Imagining is one thing, but practicing is another.

Can you live without single-use plastic bags? Absolutely.

Where to start?

Acquire a few reusable totes.
Many retailers – both independent and chain stores – now offer reusable totes of varying shapes and sizes near the checkout stand. Some shops give them away with a purchase, others charge a nominal fee ($ . 99 to $2.00). In addition to diversity in shapes, sizes, and colors, the bags are also made with a wide variety of materials – cotton, recycled material, mesh, nylon, and on and on – so peruse the offerings in your local establishments and even online and see what suits your fancy. (Hint: Search “reusable bag” and learn what your options are.) You can choose fashionable and playful or plain and understated bags. Do make sure the straps are the right length and will be comfortable when the bag is full. There are bags out there for all tastes and styles and budgets.

Choose bags for the purpose.
This may sounds like common sense, but some common sense applies when selecting bags for your day-to-day needs and outings. Owning large roomy bags is great if you limit contents to light-weight yet bulky purchases such as boxes of cereal, bags of chips, tissues, and toilet paper. Conversely, smaller-bodied totes with sturdy straps are perfect for transporting fewer heavier items like milk, yogurt, wine, canned goods, and sacks of potatoes. This is where having a little variety in your collection can be useful.

Store the bags where you’ll be reminded to grab them.
The trickiest part of toting your own totes is remembering to bring a bag or two or three (or more) with you when you head out the door. Hang your collection of reusable bags on hooks in your kitchen, the pantry, or near the door used most frequently when exiting the house. When preparing to go grocery shopping, pile a bunch of bags in one bag, slip in the grocery list, and head out the door. Having your list in with the bags is a nifty way to prevent you from leaving the bags in the car!

Use them! Don’t be shy.
If you live someplace where reusable bags are far from the norm, you’ll be introducing something new to the community. The first couple of times you whip out your bags and fore-go the store-offered packaging may feel a little awkward. The more you do it, the more normal it will become. You’ll be thanked for bringing your own. You’ll be complimented on the really cool ones. You’ll be a trendsetter and a leader!

Substitute reusable totes for more common plastic bags situations.
Can a reusable tote replace the most common uses of single-use plastic bags? Absolutely! Think about some of the common ways plastic bags are reused before ultimately landing in the trash bin: transporting wet bathing suits and towels, transporting mud-caked shoes, packing lunch for school or work, even segregating dirty laundry from the clean in luggage while traveling. In any of these instances, some sort of reusable cloth tote can be washed if it gets dirty, and then reused again and again…

But wait! What if single-use plastic bags are used as trash bags in your home?
Single-use plastic bags have become a free source of trash bags in many homes. Before you fear the need to purchase small plastic bags for gathering trash, let me ask you this: Do you buy chips and bread? What kind of packaging does the 12-pack of toilet paper come wrapped in? And what happens to these and the bags from inside the cereal boxes? Do you see where I’m going? More often than not, these wrappings get put in the trash, but they are “free” bags. They can be used the same way you’d use the plastic grocery bag.

reuse toilet paper packaging

Toilet paper packaging - which is already trash - can be used as a trash bag! Wait, no handles to tie it closed when full? Use a rubber band.

See? How tote-ally awesome is that?

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  1. Avatar
    Gina Ryerson Reply

    Debra, love your *practical* tips! In my day pack, I carry 2 or 3 cloth totes, rolled up. When I shop, I unroll my totes, and I’m good to go.

    • liberatedspaces
      liberatedspaces Reply

      Thanks, Gina. Practical and doable is key in my world, and I’m so glad you enjoy these tips! For the record, I make a point of carry a little Chico bag ( in my purse or backpack for those “just in case” moments. More than being just a bag, it was given to me by a dear friend who lives in Chico. Every time I use it, I think of her.

  2. Avatar
    notesalongthepath Reply

    Hi Deb,
    Thanks for this piece. I like your great idea of hanging one cloth bag by the door with the rest of them and the grocery list inside. I’m going to give that one a try.
    I’m not quite ready to try to turn toilet paper wrapping into a garbage bag,though. (I wish they’d just make them biodegradable! Maybe they can’t, I don’t know.) Perhaps when my daughter moves for college and young people aren’t hanging around here anymore, I’ll give it a try.:) I’m putting a link to your piece in yesterday’s post about my garbage. Thank you for all you do here.

    • liberatedspaces
      liberatedspaces Reply

      Hi Pam,

      Oh my goodness. First, thank you for the comment and the link in your post, and more importantly, thank you for sharing your beautifully-written quest/account in your blog! If you don’t mind, I’m going to post a link on my Facebook page to bring more attention to it.

      I’m a believer that change is a matter of making what seems overwhelming more simple and doable. Please let me know if the bag/grocery list consolidation trick works for you. I figured that for many, having just one container (containing the other vital contents!) to grab to go is physically and visually more palatable than a whole doorknob or bucket full of pieces.

      And regarding toilet paper: If you live in a community that has Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend their toilet paper. (Who knew I’d ever be endorsing t.p. in a public forum!?) In addition to the fact that their toilet paper is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, Trader Joe’s bundles their 12-packs in biodegradable packaging. You might want to give this trick a try – even if the only option is plastic t.p. wrapping. It sounds like your daughter might be hip to the idea…and maybe her friends, too!

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  5. Avatar
    Monika Wood Reply

    I put my bags in the trunk of the car as soon as unpacking is finished.

    • liberatedspaces
      liberatedspaces Reply

      That’s a great habit, Monika, and a perfect final step to a grocery/purchase unpacking ritual.

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