There’s a lot of “eco” talk buzzing around these days. Concerns about “climate change,” “going green,” “decreasing your carbon footprint,” “reducing your impact,” and on and on — and it can be totally overwhelming. If you’re like me, you may be thinking, “Where can I start? What is something impactful that I can do RIGHT NOW without a drastic lifestyle change?”
There are many things you can do, of course, and if you want to jump right in and make 30 big changes all at the same time (like I did — and don’t necessarily recommend), more power to you! But, bear in mind it can be quite expensive to change your lifestyle all at one time, because it may require investing in eco-friendly products that you’ve never used before, and it also can be disruptive, because you will be asking members of your household to make these changes along with you and, let’s face it: change is hard.
So, why not start with a few quick and simple changes and build from there?
Here’s one that I was able to implement on Day 1 of my Eco Quest with zero pain and minimal cost (cue the fanfare): making the shift to reusable grocery bags.
It’s quick! It’s easy! And you can pick out your own fashionable bags!
This also is an important change we can make locally, as Cuyahoga County has passed a ban on plastic bags in retail stores, due to go into effect on January 1, 2020.
Most grocery chains sell reusable bags in the checkout lines for a few bucks a pop, or you can rummage through your closet and dig out some of the 50 canvas bags you’ve accumulated over the years and shoved into a corner to gather dust. I keep 8-10 bags in the front seat of my car now, so I don’t forget them whenever I’m running to the store. My daughter rides in the top of the cart, my son rides in the big basket part, and the bags go underneath. Toss them onto the checkout belt in front of your groceries (the bags, not the kids). The cashiers are happy to load them for you.
At my local Giant Eagle (in Willoughby), there is a monthly raffle for folks who use their own bags. Just ask your cashier for a ticket and you’ll be entered to win a $25 gift card. (I’m not sure if this applies across the entire chain, but it can’t hurt to ask at your local store.)
Target also offers a 5-cent discount per reusable bag that you bring.
I recommend purchasing some reusable mesh bags (easily found online or at your favorite big box store in the kitchen section) for bagging produce. That will eliminate the need to peel off the annoying one-use plastic produce bags when bagging up your apples and corn (and I can never find the openings of those darn bags anyway). Toss your produce in the mesh bags, pull the drawstring, and move on. The cashiers can still scan the bar codes through the mesh and once you unload at home, you can toss them in the wash and reuse!
As with any “green” practice, there are positive and negative aspects, and one of my goals in this blog is to describe some of the pros and cons I’ve come across while making these changes.
Pros of reusable grocery bags: It’s easy and cost effective. The grocery baggers also seem to be able to pack a lot more into each bag, so instead of 10-15 plastic bags of stuff, you’ll come out of the store with 5-7 canvas bags full. Also, you may find your bags are great conversation starters. I’ve had multiple people behind me in line ask me where I got my cute bags, which leads to a quick chat about how we’re trying to reduce our plastic waste and, who knows, hopefully encourages that person to make a change, as well. (This goes double for when my husband does the shopping, as people still seem to be blown away when (a) a dude is doing the family’s shopping and (b) when he is doing it in an environmentally-friendly way.)
Cons: Several grocery baggers have told me that it’s more difficult to pack up the canvas bags, which I understand. They’re trained to fill the plastic bags assembly-line style and they can do it pretty darn fast. Switching to filling canvas bags (which oftentimes are so large they barely fit in the teeny bagging areas) requires them to re-think how to pack the bags most effectively, and it can take a bit longer. And (see my note earlier about being able to fit more into each bag) that also means your bags can get quite heavy. If you prefer a lighter bag, bring more canvas bags with you and tell your cashier to “pack it light.”
Additionally, the bags can get messy after repeated use. Be sure to wipe them clean and let them dry out after use, especially if you have drippy produce. And if you’re buying meat, you may still wish to have the grocery bagger wrap it in a plastic bag to contain leaks. Hey, it’s not perfect, but at least we’re trying.
On the whole, though, I’ve found this eco-friendly tactic to be a winner for the whole family. As long as my kids don’t get in trouble for leaving a telltale trail of donut sprinkles behind us in the grocery aisles, we’ll be just fine.