Seattle is banning free shopping bags, San Francisco is banning plastic bags (with Boston, Santa Monica and LA soon to follow), Paris has banned non-recyclable bags, and China, Ireland, Israel, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag. These are great strides and inspiring changes. (Read more about plastic bags here.)
However, it’s important for all of us to understand that paper bags have just as many issues as plastic bags, if not more.
What’s Wrong With Paper Bags?
TreeHugger has an amazing article here, if you want to learn more. But here’s the gist of it…
Paper bags come from trees that are often clear-cut, leaving gaping holes in our forests. Up here in the northwest, we are intimately aware of this fact (Seattle will be charging for both paper and plastic bags). I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to look up a beautiful hiking trail in a book, and go there with kids and friends in tow, only to find a half hour into the hike, that the whole forest is gone. Nothing but stumps remain.
Clearcutting devastates wildlife habitats and important migration corridors. And when trees no longer hold the topsoil in place, our rivers and streams become full of sediment, which impacts water life.
Additionally, the paper processing requires an inordinate amount of fossil fuels, water, and a variety of chemicals to produce. Just south of Seattle, there is a pulp mill in Tacoma. The odor that is emitted from the processing is so bad (putrid) that many people won’t live nearby – we call it the “Tacoma Aroma.”
From One Bag At A Time:
Compared to plastic, making a paper bag:
- emits 70% more global warming gasses
- creates 50 times more water pollution
- uses 4 times more raw materials
- consumes 3.5 times more energy
Once used, paper bags are unlikely to be re-used. They tear easily and are made for one time usage.
80% of all paper bags end up in landfills. There, they do not biodegrade because of a lack of oxygen. They also cost more to landfill because they take up much more space by weight and volume than plastic bags do.
Since it is just plain more environmentally sound to bring your own bags… It’s time to bring your bags to the store with you.
Where To Find Reusable Bags
- People seem to really love Baggalini’s or other fold-away knock-offs – I always have one in my purse just in case I stop unexpectedly to pick up a few groceries or other items.
- We also use old cloth bags that we had for other purposes once upon a time – like a school bag, beach bag, or gym bag.
- Plus, look for bags in thrift stores and garage sales – you can usually find one for $1-2 at the most.
- You could buy an ugly but functional bag at the grocery counter for about $1. But, they aren’t pretty, they aren’t built to last a long time, and I wonder at times why they only cost $1… do you?
- Why not make them and save some money?
How To Make Your Own Grocery Bag
1. A few months ago, Rhonda Jean held a shopping tote swap, where over 100 of us made a bag for our partners and sent them off. Please take a look at all of the amazing submissions here, for inspiration (there are several pages!). Sharon has included several links to patterns in this post.
2. Here is a bag I made entirely from a pair of jeans. This was my favorite pair of jeans a year ago, but since I have been eating locally, I have lost a lot of weight (!!). So this bag also has a personal history. And it was all sewn entirely by hand, too (my sewing machine is broken). I didn’t make it with a pattern, I just sort of made a skirt with it, sewed the bottom, and made handles out of the extra fabric.
4. While perusing 365 Days of Trash today, I encountered this website about sociable guerilla bagging: the idea is that you get together with friends and make re-usable bags from whatever you find around the house. The website has easy instructions.
5. Don’t sew? Not to worry! Matt found an incredible video on Slog recently. I present to you my new favorite way to carry groceries: Furoshiki!!
All you need is some fabric, which you may have lying around the house (or your mother’s or grandmother’s house), or you can find some very cheaply at thrift stores or at a sale at your local fabric store. More patterns can be found here.
More Tips Tricks & Ideas?
Note: Updated with a few new ways to make your own bags on 8/26/08 at 12:00pm.