My BYOB -- Bring Your Own Bag -- epiphany occurred last September, in the midst of my Rocky Mountain/Whole Foods high. I was traveling solo, visiting family in Salt Lake City and reveling in the warm sun and the short but sweet respite from my duties back home.
After a day of "me time" that included breakfast at a coffeehouse (I actually got to sit down and read the paper!), I was in a euphoric state as I strolled the aisles at Whole Foods. I took my time selecting two farm-fresh peaches, then went to check out. There, I spotted the chain's signature reusable shopping bags hanging high on a wall. I walked back to my hotel, carrying my fruit in the tote that told the world, "I'm green and I'm proud."
I'm not sure why it took me so long, given the peer pressure in my progressive Brooklyn neighborhood -- home to the oldest worker-run food coop in the country. (Perhaps I was stuck in the grocery store trips of yore, when the bagger would ask my mom, "Paper or plastic?") After the umpteenth time of running into a canvas bag-carrying neighbor, plastic bags dangling from both my hands, I might as well have started wearing a red "P" on my T-shirt.
In the end, it was the cute factor that won me over. Shopping queen that I am, I became a full-fledged member of the BYOB movement only when I spotted those très chic, waterproof, rolls-up-tight bags by Envirosax. How could I not buy one, then two, especially when they color-coordinate so perfectly with all the blues and greens in my closet, not to mention cost less than $10? Plus, they often do double-duty as fashion-forward purses. (OK, I know these are somewhat controversial because they are made from polyester. You can read Envirosax's explanation here.
So there I was, pleased with myself for doing my bit to save the planet. Then I started doing more research about why we need to cut back on plastic bag use, and I was blown away by just what a Godzilla we've created. Did you know that it takes these suckers more than 1,000 years to decompose in landfills, and only after breaking down into toxic bits? Well, I didn't.
I found more facts and figures about plastic bags in a post on reusablebags.com:
- Globally, we consume an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags annually, with billions ending up as litter.
- According to the EPA, more than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.
- Americans go through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually.
- Four out of five bags handed out by grocery stores in this country are plastic.
- Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales, and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
- Plastic bags are among the top 12 items of debris found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.
Trying to green my family used to seem like a lark. Now, something unexpected is starting to happen to me. The more I learn, the greener I aspire to be.
No, I'm not composting yet, and I wouldn't place any bets that I ever will. And I promise not to go all Deep Thinker on you. But I am keeping the rag bag close at hand to cut down on paper towel use. And I plan to carry my incredibly cute, reusable totes every time I shop.
I know I've got a long way to go, but I feel that I am off to a good start.
Coming next: A New Take on BYOB: Part 2