Sunday, February 17, 2013

One Small Change: Why You Should Use Reusable Grocery Bags

Back in college at Wheaton, as part of my Gen Ed requirement, I had to take a public speaking class. I remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed and learned from the class (and I recall giving an especially kick-ass informative speech on Transylvania), but one speech I gave has always plagued me: the Persuasive Speech. At the wise--and childless--age of 20, I chose to give mine on Why You Should Spank Your Children, mostly based on the ever-popular "I-got-spanked-and-I-turned-out-just-fine" line of reasoning. Every time I think about it, I give myself a mental facepalm, for a variety of reasons. So putting all that aside, let's give me a second chance to exert my powers of persuasion. This time I'll choose something I've been wanting to blog about for awhile, something that might actually impact the daily lives of my listeners/readers (unlike turning loose the "spare the rod and spoil the child"  argument on a group of college students), namely….


I'm getting excited already.

Do you use reusable grocery bags? If not, why not? You've probably seen plenty of people toting their cloth or canvas into your local grocery store. You may have even noticed an increase in the practice in the last few years--I personally have noticed a major surge since I first started about five years ago. I used to feel like the poor kid who couldn't afford school lunch and had to bring a ratty old Care Bears lunchbox to school. Now I feel like I'm in the cool crowd. So what's the big deal? Why should you get your hands on some of this clothy green goodness?

Here are a few of my top reasons for making this one small change:

--The obvious: their impact (or comparative lack on impact) on the environment. There are some horrible statistics out there about plastic bags, such as these doozies: 
--One plastic bag takes anywhere from 15 to 1,000 years to decompose. 
--The U.S. alone uses approximately 100 billion new plastic bags a year. 
--Only 1% of plastic bags are recycled world-wide.
--An estimated 1 million birds and 100,000 whales, seals, turtles and other sea animals die of starvation each year after ingesting plastic bags that block their digestive tracts
--Public agencies in California alone spend over $300 million a year on coastal litter clean-up, at least 10% of which is washed-up plastic bags. Just think of how an extra $30 million could be redirected to, say, education. (All stats taken from

--Because plastic bags are made of petroleum, they use nonrenewable resources and ultimately drive up the price of fuel.

--On a (much) smaller scale, several grocery stores/retailers give you money back for bringing your own bag. My local Target and Sprouts give 5 cents a bag, which sounds like peanuts, but hey, over a year, if you use five bags each week, could net you $13. Go get yourself something nice.

--The cuteness factor. Ladies, there are a whole lot of adorable reusable bags out there to round out your commitment to fashion. How cute is this one that folds up into a strawberry? A freaking strawberry!

--You don't have to figure out where to put all those plastic bags with the vague promise that you'll recycle them someday. If you're like me, you stuff them in a cabinet for months on end until you have an untamed plastic bag beast that spills its guts on you every time you open that door. Then in a moment of weakness you end up just throwing them all in the regular trash.

--Cloth bags don't dig into your skin like plastic bags. Hate those plastic bag skin lacerations!

--Cloth bags (usually) don't break and allow your glass jar of spaghetti sauce to shatter in the parking lot, or that embarrassing box of extra absorbency tampons to roll away.

--You can get everything in the house in one trip with cloth bags. They hold more, so you use a fewer number of them, meaning your forearm can handle it all at one time.

I could go on and on, but they tell me people stop reading blog posts after 500 words. So ask yourself: is there really a good reason not to use reusable bags? Is it really the better choice to use plastic? Because the truth is, it is a choice, and there is a better one available. If you have good intentions but find yourself forgetting to bring your bags to the store, keep them in your car until it becomes habit. It's one small change that will add up to a big impact. Isn't it worth a try?