This week, various news outlets have been reporting the story of a small pilot whale found dying on the shores of a beach in Thailand. Rescuers tried to help but the whale died shortly after vomiting several plastic bags. Further investigation found over 17 pounds of plastic and more than 80 plastic bags in the whale’s stomach.
This is just one example of many others that we know of and countless ones we don’t. The use of plastic has become such a burden for us. It is in fact costing the lives of many creatures in the wild and in very remote places too. From drilling the oil out the ground to the disposing of plastic bags – and other single use plastics – the cost is more than we can measure, more than it is worth, and certainly more than we can bear.
“In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.”
What can you and I do to lessen our impact on our fragile ecosystem?
As a woman at a check out counter remarked to me recently, when I declined a bag, “surely, one bag is not going to make a difference!” I agreed that saving one bag from the trash is not enough, I also asked her to imagine if many of us brought our own reusable bags on every trip to the store over the period of a year. She thought that was more promising.
In fact, every reusable bag keeps hundreds of plastic bags out of the landfill and thus it is
a very effective way to reduce plastic waste. Along with that I’m learning that we also need to be mindful of what we put inside the bag, but that’s for another time. For now, let’s look at some of the alternatives to single-use plastic bags.
“The New York City Sanitation Department collects more than 1,700 tons of single-use carry-out bags every week, and has to spend $12.5 million a year to dispose of them.”
What are some alternatives to plastic bags?
Canvas bags from the store or from conference giveaways are a good option. But we don’t want to have bags to make us feel good about having them, we need to use them. Keep them in the front seat of the car so you always remember to bring them with you. However, canvas bags are not recyclable or compostable and the cost of making them is much higher than plastic bags.
Sturdier recycled plastic bags that can last a long time are an acceptable option and provide a way to use recycled plastic.
Paper bags consume trees and because they are heavier also cost more to transport. The upside is that paper is one of a highly recyclable material. It could be a good option on the occasions when you rather skip plastic.
Natural fiber bags made of sisal, raffia, and others can be good choice sfor transporting groceries and can last a very long time.
The bottom line is that whatever reusable bag you choose, you want to use it. We don’t want to make millions of reusable bags that nobody uses, because if that’s the case, we would have managed to make the problem worse instead of better.
“One person using reusable bags over their lifetime would remove more than 22,000 plastic bags from the environment.”
(Research by Natural Capitalism Solutions)