The first "R" in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is, of course, REDUCE.
To reduce the number of plastic bags that are in play, do we:
- ban all plastic bags?
- legislate that stores must charge for plastic bags at the checkout, to encourage shoppers to reduce or eliminate their use?
- educate citizens on the impact of the use of plastic and hope for the best?
Our provincial government's immediate reaction has been the first choice above: to call for a ban on the use of all plastic shopping bags in stores. They are requesting that all municipalities across the province get on board with this decision.
But will banning plastic at the checkouts actually reduce the use of plastic overall? If so, will there be a different but equally harmful cost to the environment?
Currently, we are required to place our garbage and recyclables in specific kinds of plastic bags for collection. Our newspapers must be in separate bags from the rest of our recycling. We usually put a total of five bags at the curb in each two-week collection period: three partial bags of garbage ("partial" due to weight restrictions per bag), most of which is used kitty litter, plus non-recyclable packaging for food and other supplies; one is newspapers; and one is other recyclables. If these bags are banned as well - as they probably should be if we are serious about reducing our plastic consumption - we will need to find alternatives.
Will we switch to using heavy duty plastic bins whose contents will be dumped directly into the collection trucks, the way our compost is collected? That's a lot of plastic bins to be manufactured for our use, which incurs different environmental impacts. Even if they are made from recycled plastics as opposed to new materials (but where will they get the plastics to recycle if we ban shopping bags?), there are other considerations such as water and energy usage during manufacture. On the other hand, they are durable and would not need to be recycled or put in the landfill until many years in the future.
Many folks here already shop with a recyclable bag in hand. Many of them use whatever plastic bags they do end up with as garbage bin liners in their kitchens, bathrooms and wherever else they have bins. We are part of this group. Since at least the 1980s we have been re-using our plastic shopping bags this way, and we also use them for discarding used kitty litter. We try to minimize the number of bags we need to re-use, by dumping the contents of the small bins into the large garbage bags that go to the curb, unless the garbage is quite messy. But we still go through quite a few of these shopping bags in a week due to daily scooping of the cats' litter boxes. If we didn't re-use these bags, we would be buying new bags for the same purpose, because plastic helps to contain the smell that inevitably becomes an issue when pickup is only every second week. And unlike food waste, which we are told to (and do) store in our freezers to reduce the smell, I have absolutely no plans to store used kitty litter in that same freezer until pickup. And I have yet to come up with an alternative plan for it.
Looking beyond our own household's use of plastic, I realize that dog owners must go through quite a few bags as well. Not picking up after your dog, in this town at least, is a fine-able offence.
So we in the Donkey household have already made progress on reducing and reusing, and we are avid recyclers of all materials that are currently accepted. Even before our recycling program began, decades ago, I washed and stored glass and metal cans in our basement for two years because I couldn't bear to put them in the garbage and I felt the winds of recycling change were blowing our way. Sure enough, our municipality was among the first in the province to provide collection points for these items, and my two-year collection was not amassed in vain.
I tell you this only to illustrate that recycling has been on my list of Important Things To Do for many, many years, and that it has been on our region's list of Important Things To Do for nearly that long too.
Therefore, I am pulled in two directions regarding the banning of plastic shopping bags. Is it as good for the environment as it appears to be, considering that alternatives also have an environmental cost? Will giving people the choice to buy them or not at the checkout, combined with education, make enough of an impact? Is there a fourth (or fifth, or tenth) solution that has not yet been proposed? Not many people, and certainly not many governments, think outside the box in terms of solutions.
If you feel inclined, please give me your thoughts on the topic. What is the current procedure for disposal of compost, garbage and recyclables where you live? What would be your solution if you were running the world? Brainstorm with me, if you'd like. Who knows where the next really good idea will come from?
I hope you have a weekend free from too much stress over environmental issues (after you have left your comment here, I mean!) and free from too much thinking about stinky messes (after you have read this post, of course!). Here are some pictures to help you with that:
start with a donkey
add some kittens
might as well throw in an optical illusion floor while we're at it
and a rainbow of coloured pencils
and cherry blossoms, just to cover all the bases
(Thanks to Pixabay for all pictures except the checkered floor. I neglected to record source details for that one . . . if I can figure it out, I'll edit later to include that. My thanks, and apologies, to the source in the meantime.)
PEI hasn’t said anything about recycling of plastic bags yet, though I expect it in the near future
We recycle, compost etc as the island has been into the process for more than fifteen years. Going to the next level will be harder I am sure.
We have been using recycle bins for years. All washed cans, plastic and glass go in them. Newspaper and cardboard go in paper bags. I shop using cloth bags, which the grocery store refunds me $.05 for each. However, I get plastic bags when shopping for non-food items at retail stores. These I use for trash can liners and donate most to the food bank where I work. We use these to pack food for clients which they often return to us. We have given most cloth bags to use and some do. All our grocery stores have bins where we can return plastic bags and they recycle them into something. In California, where my daughter lives, one has to pay a dime for every bag when shopping so that cuts down on their use. Money talks. In terms of plastic bags, we have tried our best to cut down on using them, but it is just a grain of sand in the desert compared to all the items that we use that are made of plastic. How did we live without it before and how will we live without it now.
So we in the Donkey household........ that made me laugh 😸
Reusable sacks is the way forward, Jenny. Eventually they won’t serve you in their plastic bags. They won’t use them. They’ll sell you a hemp bag though. I just wonder at the changes that will be introduced in the next 40 years.
if you find the time, google Rwanda and plastic ban experience, Rwanda has banned all non-biodegradable plastic for the last 10 years and has been fairly successful (some black market activity in border regions) and the environmental effects are significant.
In my country, Germany, the large supermarket chains do not supply plastic bags to shoppers but produce is still wrapped in plastic. If you want to pick and bag your own, most shops now provide reusable nets. The whole food shops and the local farmer's markets have banned plastic bags for ages.
We reuse plastic bags and plastic wrapping the way you do, we have a garden and two compost bins where we dump almost all food waste in between grass cuttings and leaves and so on.
My cats were outdoor cats, so very little litter - if so, we buried it.
Our trash is collected in big reusable bins (hard plastic), we've had the same four (blue for paper, yellow for recyclables, green for organic waste and black for whatever is left) for 20+ years and intend on using them for as long as it takes. If you opt for a smaller black bin (the come in three sizes), the fees for refuse collection are less.
We don't have landfills here (illegal), whatever cannot be recycled is burned in the city's incinerators and the energy from this is used in district heating schemes, mostly in offices.
Our city has a sustainability program with lots of free education and information for anyone who wants to find out anything, e.g. when renovating or buying or selling a home, but also just in general.
Where I am in southwestern Ontario, we have a blue bin for recycling - tin cans, plastic (bags, bottles and containers) and cardboard. Green bins for all organics, including dog poo if you wrap it up with paper towel or newspaper. Our garbage gets picked up every two weeks and we're allowed 4 bags or bins. We only ever put out 1 bin. We also have yard waste which gets collected during the growing season. I, too, use my plastic grocery bags for my kitchen garbage. I'm having trouble reducing our use of plastic because it's just everywhere and hard to avoid. I'm thinking of buying some stainless steel straws because our region doesn't recycle them. Whatever happened to paper grocery bags? Maybe they need to come back.
I wonder if I could walk across that optical illusion with my eyes closed.
My community has recycling and single stream refuse. I'm proud to say I was responsible for implementing the first. We have strict rules to follow for all of our disposables. Recyclable goes in one bin, the balance in the rest to single stream, or go down a line and be sorted. In the end, all recyclables are subtracted.
We have not used plastic in this house since Laura and I started out. Paper trash can liners. Paper lunch bags for kitty litter. However, the cook insists on a plastic bag in the garbage pot. And I reuse all plastic bread and fruit bags for kitty litter, too.
That's what we do. You will be good when you have a good base of pickup.
Yes, I think it will be harder. I hope the government thinks it through thoroughly.
Good information here. I am curious about what you do with newspaper and cardboard if it is raining on your pick up day? Or for two or three pickup days in a row? You're so right about how we will live without plastic in the future. I suspect some smart person will next invent a non-plastic plastic-like substitute. But I think there might have to be financial incentives in place to hurry that process along.
I wonder at what those changes will be, too - I'm sure life will look very different in a lot of ways.
Very interesting information, Sabine - thank you. It's good to hear about other countries. We get stuck in a rut doing what our closest neighbours do, without looking across the sea. I'm especially interested that you have no landfills and capture the energy from burning waste. I will check out the Rwanda link in a bit.
I agree - maybe we need to look backward for some of the answers. And stainless steel straws would be a good solution to a common problem.
Good to hear about your system - and good for you for being the moving force! We reuse bread bags and fruit bags also. Some messes are too big for those alone!
Stopping the production of plastic bags would certainly help. I live in a condo and the idiots here fought the idea of recycling but the containers are always full, so they've stopped...
So we in the Donkey household 🤣🤣🤣
We use our own bags when we shop. I keep a whole batch of them in the car. Most stores here still offer plastic bags but you have to pay for them. We recycle everything we can, so the garbage bag we put out each week is very small. The only plastic bags we use are to line garbage cans and the ones we use for the actual garbage we put out each week. And all those are store bought specifically for that. I thought we couldn't live without those plastic shopping bags we once got at the markets but it turns out we can. Reluctantly at first, but we're okay now :)
Here they have banned stores from supplying plastic shopping bags but at the same time they can sell you a reusable plastic bag for a small fee. Our garbage is disposed of in poly carts separated into three carts recyclable, yard waste, and other "regular" garbage, these are picked up weekly.
This is here in California but I am not sure this is typical across the USA.
Single use plastic bags have been banned here for years at grocery stores. We still see them a few other places, like fast food restaurants, but very few of them.
We have a few burlap shopping bags with strong handles that we use, and some larger reinforced plastic shopping bags we got at a dollar store that are the strongest bags around (I just used one to carry three two liter sodas, a half gallon of almond milk, various cans and bottles, three bags of frozen veggies, and a couple of yams, and more would have fit but I wouldn't have been able to carry it).
All of the grocery stores have reusable bags you can buy at the checkout, and some are good (like the ones I just described) and some aren't.
There are the paper ones with handles that are OK until the handles fall off, the thicker plastic ones with holes for handles that we use for all of the things we used to use the single use ones for, and then the "tote bag" type made of canvas or other fabric that cost a bit more, but last a long time.
I like the burlap bags, and our last cat used to like to sleep on one, also.
Since the ban, there just aren't any of those bags drifting down the street on the breeze like there used to be, so by that measure the ban has worked. We used to see them all over the place, drifting around like plastic tumbleweeds or stuck to chain link fences, and it is nice to have them gone.
We have three big plastic, wheeled, bins that get picked up on Tuesdays: a green one for yard clippings, wood, and organic stuff, a blue one for all types of recyclables, and a smaller brown one for the rest of the trash.
Our cat mostly goes outside to do his business, so we don't use much kitty litter, but if you have to keep some for a couple of weeks, could you perhaps get one of those six gallon buckets with tight fitting lids that they sell things like paint and bulk foodstuffs in? A lot of them even have metal handles to make moving them easier.
Another plastic solution, of course, but not one that gets thrown away each time.
-Doug in Oakland
They are changing how they recycle plastic here in Boise so it will be interesting to see what they decide. I have been more mindful of my plastic consumption and trying to curb it as much as possible. The biggest culprit right now is Ms. Frizzled and picking up her poop when she's out and about. We have always used plastic sacks for that and I will have to investigate other options. Take care, jenny_o and best of lucj with the recycling efforts.
It's good that they've decided to stop resisting!
My concern is that people who currently reuse shopping bags as garbage bags will end up buying plastic bags anyway, which represent a newly manufactured item rather than reuse of an existing item. I suppose the impact depends on how many people are reusing them and how many are recycling them. And goodness knows if anyone has those numbers :)
It's helpful to hear what other areas do, so thank you for filling me in, Jimmy. I think weekly collection would solve some of the smelly problems but I suppose it would create others (air pollution caused by garbage trucks). There are always consequences to any course of action. The trick is to minimize them overall.
Very interesting that you have actually been able to see a decrease in bags on the ground (or in the air). That's definitely a good thing. And yes, I need to figure out a solution for the kitty litter. Your suggestion is a good one. Thanks for the details on your region's program, Doug.
Yes, what will dog owners do?? Carry a pail with a lid and a little shovel?? Sigh.
You take care, too, Mr. S. :)
Ontario hasn't completely banned plastic bags but if you need one in the store you have to pay for it. We use cloth bags for shopping and the few bags that come into the home are reused. Plastic...what a terrible invention.
Along with plastic bags I find packaging to be out of control. I recently bought a computer and printer. the packaging on them was elaborate. We have to do something very serious and soon.
Banning plastic bags at the checkout didn't work here. First, my state banned them and other states didn't, then people started saving the bags from the previous shop and brought them in to be used again, but they were often filthy and crumpled, so "environmentally friendly green" reusable bags were invented and people could choose to buy them instead of the free plastic bags and many did, but then would either throw them away or forget to bring them in again and have to buy more every time they shopped. And again, they were never cleaned, stored incorrectly so they became badly crumpled and impossible to pack groceries into (speaking from the checkout operator side here) and some were so stinky with leaked meat juices and soured spilled milk etc we refused to reuse them and the customers would get snarky. one time I put my hand into a bag to 'square it out' and a large black spider crawled up my arm. Now I'm not squeamish, so I just shook it off and stomped on it. Anyhow, people still demanded plastic bags, so after the ban had been in place for a year or so, lo and behold! New, larger, stronger plastic bags became available, but at a price. The idea was that people would reuse these stronger bags and some did and some didn't so had to buy new bags each time they shopped...that's where we are now.
For garbage collection, we never put plastic bags on the kerb, We've always had bins. In the beginning the bins were metal and large and everything went into them. Some households had one, others had more, as many as they needed. The racket made by the garbage trucks and the bins was unbelievably loud. Then plastic bins became available, at this point people still bought their own bins. As time went on and people produced more rubbish, councils began providing households with a large wheelie bin. Then the recycling thing began and councils provided a smaller wheelie bin for household rubbish and the larger one was for recyclables, washed glass and plastic containers and flattened clean cardboard, newspapers etc. The number of people who don't clean their recycling things is astonishing. And there are others who see the recycling bin as just another rubbish bin and chuck in anything they want. Now, on top of all that, we have yet another bin for "green waste' which is lawn clippings, garden trimmings, and anything organic from the kitchen.
Here in the Uk you get charged 5p to buy a plastic bag at the checkout. Now, almost everyone carries their own "long life" bags and reuses them every time they shop. I'm always shocked when I'm in the States where all the stores I go to still use plastic bags, and often in places like Walmart they put 2 items in one bag!
Paper bags work just as well as plastic for carrying store-bought items. I never understood why we don't just use paper across the board. A thought provoking post.
Individual stores here have tried to bring in the "buy a bag" rule, with mixed results. One grocery chain had to back down, but Walmart went ahead with it.
Yes, packaging seems excessive too.
I have often wondered how checkout personnel feel about the reusable bags - when we first had that option here I noticed they struggled to keep the bags open while scanning and bagging because the frames to hold the bags were made explicitly for plastic bags. It slowed the line and must have been frustrating for the checkers.
Yikes on the spider! Lucky you didn't get bitten by something poisonous . . .
Thanks for the details, River. Interesting that people didn't adapt and new plastic was introduced after a year.
Walmart is the only store here that charges for bags - 5 cents per bag. If I have just a couple of items I don't bother getting one and then I feel like a shoplifter walking out of the store! :)
Maybe paper bags were phased out because they are made from trees . . . and that's a whole other conversation. There are so many aspects to the issue. Then there is the transportation of all these items - and transportation of goods is THE biggest contributor to air pollution. Yikes. So much to think about.
I have lived in a couple neighborhoods where all kinds of garbage could be giftwrapped or packed into cardboard boxes (which the Post Office provides for free), then stacked on the front porch to be stolen.
Now, there's a comment I wasn't expecting!! A novel approach . . . but I fear it would end up in the street or over an embankment after the, er, recipients, if I may call the thieves that, found out what was inside . . .
Like Doug, we have city-provided wheeled containers. Blue for recyclables and brown for garbage. We don't have them for yard waste-for that we have to provide our own. Most grocery stores around here still use the plastic bags. Whole Foods uses paper ones, which I re-use for our recyclables. We have reusable bags that we take to the grocery store but lately I've been shopping at a new grocery store that my son works at. He gets a discount that I'm also allowed to use. They have a really convenient set up for loading the groceries in plastic that I feel bad about disrupting with my resuables but I've amassed a large collection of the small plastic bags and I need to go back to using my own bags, I think. I'm not sure what the answer is. I also hate all the packaging that everything comes in. We recycle so much cardboard every week from cereal, cracker and snack boxes. I think the answer to that is more cooking from scratch but who has the time. Less snacking may be a better answer. And what about milk containers? Glass bottles? Is there a bag that decomposes quickly or could one be invented?
Leave it to Geo to find a creative, colorful solution!
I always take cloth bags to the grocery store. When they're full, if the cashier starts to put something I can carry into a bag, I say, Please don't bother. I also wash my cloth bags regularly because a cashier told me once that most of the re-usable bags she handles are filthy.
I think new products will come along (like rapidly decomposing bags) when the alternatives are no longer easily available. Do you have composting there? We are encouraged to put our kitchen waste in the cracker and cereal boxes to make things less smelly but also because it adds the "brown" component to the "green" kitchen waste - both of which are needed in the final compost produced by our regional facility. I know what you mean about disrupting the packers' set up - it slowed the line and looked harder for the packers to use alternative bags.
I know! If I was on cash I'd be using enough hand sanitizer to make the whole store woozy . . .
And then there is this little video about plastic bags and before you know it . . .
I loved it - good message and dry humour! Thanks for that. The amount of plastic in the ocean and how it's getting in the food chain wasn't something I was focusing on when I wrote this post, but it should have been.
great writing dear Jenny ,reminded me my late mom who in her whole life used her handmade cloth bags .
unlike her i am not as active and shortage of times also there yet after reading you i got idea in my mind that let the days get little longer enough to have some time for sewing so i am going to sew some cloth bags just like my dear late mom and use them while shopping because everyday there are many plastic bags come in the house with stuff hubby brings home .Thank you for reminder so i can correct myself at least :)
Loved the fun pics at the end and you succeeded in lightening my head by doing so
God Bless you my friend!
I am glad if I helped to motivate you, dear baili! I could be making cloth bags myself, except I already have quite a lot of ready-made ones, so then I would have too many! Actually, I should go through them and donate some to other people.
In Calgary most grocery stores charge for plastic bags. In some small towns in Manitoba, stores don't provide bags at all - it's BYO bag or carry your groceries home piece by piece. Here on Vancouver Island, some stores supply your choice of plastic or paper bags for free and some charge for bags.
Like you, when we had cats we made good use of grocery store bags. Now I usually take my own reusable bags to the store, but when we occasionally get plastic ones I save them and reuse them for all sorts of things, from repackaging food for the freezer to wrapping stinky garbage items before they go into our kitchen garbage.
Even though we're out in the country, we have recycling pickup every second week, alternating with garbage pickup. Green bins (for all food and yard waste, including meat) get picked up every week.
I don't know what the 'right' solution is - it's true that paper is made from trees; but so many other products and building materials are made from wood that I suspect if it was collected and repurposed there would be more than enough paper to go around... and around and around, if it was being recycled. Who knows...?
I hear you - and sometimes I despair of individuals making much difference, when there are such huge quantities of waste of every kind being produced by industries. Our efforts seem so small compared to what must be done.
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