Many of us are now fully aware of the problems with single-use plastic. We understand that using single-use plastic bags takes a massive toll on our planet. But just because we are all aware of the choice to bring your own bag, does not mean that everyone is doing so.
Breaking our reliance on single-use plastic can be a challenge. But the small steps we take to move in the right direction really can make a big difference.
The main challenges we face when moving towards a sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle are psychological. Ingrained habits can be difficult to break1. We can easily forget to bring reusable bags with us to replace single-use plastic bags when we head out to the stores. A big part of learning to live more sustainably is forging new habits, as we seek to create a better future for us all.
So how can we get into the habit of carrying reusable bags with us whenever we head out to the shops? Because it is only when something becomes habitual that it feels as comfortable and natural as it should.
Something becomes a habit when you do it again and again. We can make sure we do something repeatedly by making sure that it is easy to achieve, and does not negatively impact us. We're less likely to do something again and again if it feels like a chore.
In terms of using reusable bags, this might mean:
It is also very important that we don't find reusable bags inconvenient or uncomfortable to use. This means that it is important that we choose the right options for our needs.
One of the most earth-friendly things you can do is take matters into your own hands. There are several ways that you can use items that you might otherwise throw away to make your reusable bags.
One great option, for example, is to make reusable bags out of old clothing or textiles. Anything sturdy and durable should make bags (such as tote bags) that will last for a long time. People have, for example, made reusable bags out of old jeans. Or make produce bags from old cotton T-shirts.
You can also make reusable bags out of old potato sacks, or other hessian-type materials. All you need are a few very basic sewing skills, a needle, and thread, to hem edges and attach strong handles for your new bags.
Of course, you could also simply use an old backpack or another old bag that is strong and sturdy enough to take to the store and carry home the things you buy. You don't necessarily need a bag that is only for your groceries.
Of course, if you don't have the time or energy to make your bags, or are short on usable materials at home, you can also simply buy reusable bags. Stash them alongside your reusable straws in your everyday bag, be that a handbag, tote, or backpack. There are plenty of great options out there that are eco-friendly and sustainable, and won't cost the earth – literally or metaphorically.
Here are a few options to consider (🔗 amazon):
The reusable bags that are right for you will very much depend on your shopping style and way of life. It will depend on how many people you are shopping for, how often you go to the grocery store, and what you tend to buy. There are several practical things to consider. Here are just a few of the things to think about when choosing the right option or options for you:
If you need bags that you can carry inside another bag to take to the store, then you need to consider how portable they are. And whether you can easily fold and stow them away until you need them. You will likely require a lighter-weight option. But do bear in mind that the reusable bags you choose will still have to be strong enough to carry the products you want to buy.
The handles on a reusable bag can be very important. The last thing you want is to handle digging into your hands as you carry heavy bags after your shop. If you regularly go for large amounts of heavy shopping, reusable bags with shoulder straps or ones which you can wear on your back may be easier and more comfortable for you to carry.
It is a good idea, also, to think about whether reusable bags will be easy to clean if something accidentally spills, or if the bags are put down onto the wet or dirty ground. It can be practical to choose reusable bags that you can easily pop into a washing machine – especially if you have a busy family life.
If you are buying fresh produce regularly (which of course we highly recommend if you are trying to live more sustainably) then breathable bags are the best option. Breathable bags will help to keep the produce fresh and can help to prevent premature spoiling.
Generally speaking, therefore, it is best to avoid non-breathable synthetic fabrics. You should opt instead for natural materials like organic cotton, jute, and hemp, which will let the air through.
In addition to thinking about practical issues, it is also, of course, important to think about sustainability. How eco-friendly and sustainable are the options you are considering? Unfortunately, there are a lot of reusable bags out there that are not as green as they may initially appear. And these plastic bags still pose a major risk to the environment and contribute to plastic waste.
Polyester reusable bags and other options made from synthetic polymers are also unsustainable options. When you look at their entire life cycle you can see that such products still take an enormous toll.
When trying to evaluate the sustainability of a reusable bag, it is important to look at the whole life cycle of the product from beginning to end.
First of all, make sure you know what it took to make a reusable bag. Did it use finite and polluting materials like fossil fuels? How much energy, water, land, and other resources did manufacturers need to create that bag and several others? What impact was there on people through the supply chain? And how did it impact ecosystems, wildlife, and the environment?
Next, think about any negative impact your reusable bag might be having while it is in use. Polyester and other synthetic bags, for example, will shed microfibres into the surrounding environment, and into the water when washed.
Another important thing to think about is its durability. An item, no matter how green, will always have used precious resources to make. So the best way to reduce the negative impact is to make sure we can buy as little as possible. That means choosing items that you won't need to replace frequently. And which will serve you well for many years to come.
Finally, of course, you need to think about what will happen to your reusable bag at the end of its useful life. Even the most durable bag is likely, one day, to wear out. Synthetic options like thick plastic bags and synthetic fabric options are not usually recyclable. And even when they are, recycling plants can only downgrade them and use the materials to make items that we cannot recycle again at the end of their useful lives.
Choosing natural, fully compostable materials is usually the greenest and most sustainable option.
Moving away from single-use plastic bags and choosing a reusable bag will always be a good decision. But creating new habits, and making sure we use our new reusable bags is key. And choosing the right reusable bags is essential if we are truly to transition to a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle. By thinking about practicalities and sustainability, we can make the right choices for a better way of life for ourselves and our families.
|1||Klöckner, Christian & Prugsamatz, Sunita. (2012). Habits as barriers to changing behaviour. Psykologisk tidsskrift. 16. 26-30.|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.