A New Take on BYOB - Part 1 | Seventh Generation
Skip to Content
  • Pin It

A New Take on BYOB - Part 1

Author: BethArky

Plastic Bag in TreeMy 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

photo: s2 art


BettyRamat picture
I don't get the point of this article. It seems like it was written by a high school student in the mid-nineties. I would think that most of the people who use Seventh generation products have been shopping at natural food stores and using their own bags since the 70s. Children of those people would have grown up using cloth bags. Even the most recent trend of reusable bags has been going on for at least five years now. Is there anybody left out there who doesn't know they should be reusing bags (even if they don't do it).
rvingft picture
I carry two in my purse - 1 large & 1 small. They are compact and great for quick trips into the store. Now, if I can only remember to carry the 10 canvas bags for when I have a BIG shopping list !
troylnorris picture
For the past 2 years, I have made a point to always take my own bag to the grocery and any other store where I might make a purchase. I also own horses so generally have empty feed bags laying around that I was hesitant to throw away because they're so sturdy. I am a dog groomer and January is a painfully slow time of the year for grooming so I decided to craft a re-usable tote bag out of an empty feed bag after cleaning it up. I've made more totes this month than groomed dogs so I have posted the surplus totes for sale online. Have sold several already! If you want to check them out, you can visit here: http://bringyobag.blogspot.com/ or here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/troylynn . I like to buy items made of recycled materials because my husband and I recycle our paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic waste. With all of us doing what we can, it will make a difference.
egirlrocks picture
A very good reason to recycle plastics and bring BYOB to the grocery store is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch or you can google it for other links. I was shocked to know it exists!
gofigure picture
was at Tahoe last Fall and bought 3 bags at Raley's grocery store. I live in Wisc. I wish I'd purchased the entire rack...they're the best ever and have great designs so a bit 'chic' but then there's the bright yellow ones from Madison's Brat Fest...see you coming a mile away :)
Trendy picture
Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us. It was fun to read. I think reusable bags are a try them and you will like them thing. I so love them for grocery shopping. They can fit alot of groceries and no more guilt about the plastic.
kurtmann1 picture
with the mess in the gulf of Mexico, I've decided to be a one car family. so often shopping takes all day and tons of gas. I'm wondering, is there any science out there that can point to fuel efficiency buying online - where one truck (UPS) ships many packages whereas alternatively, many cars on individual trips to shop, require more fuel, produce more pollution and also eat up precious time.
Scorpio Girl picture
Scorpio Girl
For those who are interested, check out "Natural Value" plastic bags for different sizes of compostable and "degradable" bags. Compostable and degradable plastic bags seem to be better choices than biodegradable ones, according to the article I posted above. Although I'm confused as to why some of Natural Value's bags say both words "Biodegradable" and "Compostable" together on the box...I mean, which is it?! Are they compostable, or biodegradable...how can they be both??! Natural Value has a website, but I couldn't find out how to order directly from the website! Guess I'll have to e-mail them and ask, but VitaCost (online) sells their degradable 13-gallon kitchen trash bags.
Scorpio Girl picture
Scorpio Girl
Thought I'd post this article: http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/197/1/Degradable-Biodegradable-Compostable.html It discusses the details of biodegradable/compostable bags and how "green" are they really??...From this article, it sounds like compostable is the best choice we have, as far as "ecologically-sound" bags go. And as far as cotton (canvas) bags being "biodegradable"...if what this articles says is true, then it sounds like they aren't very "biodegradable" at all, unfortunately, under the conditions in a landfill. =( I use canvas totes myself for grocery shopping...and all things considered...they're better than plastic, I'm sure! ;)
whit picture
I shop at aldi's in IL. One great thing about this store is you have to buy the bags to pack your groceries. People hate paying for them so they try to remember to bring their own. Some people even bring bags from other stores and leave them on the counter so others can use them! I think every store should do this.
ocmd123 picture
Chicobag (chicobag.com) is another great self-contained bag, which, by the way, now offers a bag made from recycled plastic bottles. I carry one in my purse and keep one in my car.
patriciaf picture
I completely agree with your thoughts about our culture of consumerism--it is seductive and rampant! At the same time, I also agree with all the other comments that going green is a journey, a process. So, if having attractive re-usable bags can get folks to take that all-important first-step, I think that's great--those steps should be encouraged, with other greenies offering support and ideas about how to build on that change.
NatalieSlater picture
Glad to see an intelligent take on the plastic bag issue amid all the nonsense coming from the plastics industry. The bottom line is, consuming less is the only sustainable option. A handful of high-quality reusable bags will replace thousands of disposables and with modern sustainable fabrics, many of the reusable bags on the market can either be recycled into new material or are natural fibers than can be composted at the end of their long life cycle. And bags are just the beginning - soon people will start to realize the waste they're creating with plastic water bottles, plastic sandwich baggies, paper towels and dozens of other disposables that are easily replaced with reusables. It was great to see some facts from ReusableBags.com sited in the story - you can see more of them here.
Pesha picture
When I saw people buying cloth bags for their groceries, i realized that i had a lot of cloth tote bags not being used. So now I keep 3 of these in the car. They're also good for carrying library books and DVDs, etc.
snow.angel22 picture
Just to let you know, alot of those plastic grocery store bags are made from recycled milk cartons. They are also, in themselves, recycleable. I beg of you all to remember that if you want to be able to continue to recycle you need to buy recycled products. If there is no market for recycled materials, there is no reason to have a recycle center. It's all about money: supply and demand. Also, most of the "greener" canvas bags aren't all that green. Some are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic) that wears out too. Simply switching what type of plastic is used in a plastic bag doesn't make it any better. What would be better is a bag made of recycled material, or all natural cloth, like canvas (because that is biodegradable). Also, there are bags called BioBags which are made out of corn, and can be home-composted. Also, some new plastics that are made out of corn are not home-compostable; or recyclable. They go to the trash unless your area has a industrial composter. In our area, instead of a landfill, our community burns our garbage in order to provide electricity to run our government buildings. They go through the trash first for recyclables (such as plastics, they leave the paper though); then they burn the remaining, and go through the ashes for the metals so they can also be recycled. It is so awesome how they have had this system in place for years. Funnny, most people doen't even know this is happening. Do the rest of you actually know how your community takes care of its garbage, or do you assume it all goes to a landfill? Time to take a deeper look. . . .
hughesey picture
Reusable shopping bags will always be the best approach towards reducing throw-away bags bags. However, it always amazes me when we pick on 1 plastic product like its the part of the evil-empire while other plastics pass under our radar with no commentary. Your point about bags taking 1000 years to decompose is dangerous. Landfills are like tupperware containers that are sealed to not allow anything inside (heat, moisture, air, sunlight) so claiming that anything decomposes faster than another is misleading as 20 year old carrots and newspapers remain intact in landfills. The other major "greenwash" are retailers who offer "biodegradable bags". Bags are either polyethylene /petroleum-based bags or petro-based bags with an additive that fragments them into tiny bits or they are BPI certified compostable bags like Biobags that contain zero petroleum. So dont believe the hype, do the right thing and carry your favorite lightweight reusable bag to your favorite coop & bag away !!!
michelelyl picture
Congrats on using reusable bags. FYI, Trader Joes makes completely recyclable reusable bags from plastic bottles that are sturdy and only 99 cents each. Also- biobags are the recycled biodegradable and very sturdy bags you can use for household trash or dog poo. They are compostable also. You can get them at most places that carry 'green' products or on their website www.biobagusa.com Michele
GinaYoo picture
This post was really discouraging. I applaud your desire to take up the "my own shopping bag" mantra and to spend the time researching the not-so-fabulous facts about plastic bags. But your admission of being a "shopping queen" and liking them because they color-coordinate your outfits causes me pause. I am not sure you really get it. Shopping is the problem and having several in several colors is the problem. I agree, it is a journey we are on, but I try to live my life by this quote from Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patatonia - "The more you know, the less you need". I encourage you to try the same.
candyM picture
The old saying goes something like "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step." Kudos to you! Gosh, my mother back in the 60's started us off on all these endeavors most folks are just now getting started with. Back then, you got paper bags from the grocery stores. Plastic was unheard of. To save money, Loretta Longpockets as she was called, used those paper grocery bags in the kitchen garbage can. Only dry items could go into the garbage. Every bit of compostable stuff, including coffee grounds and eggshells, went into the empty waxed paper milk cartons. Back then, milk came in either those cartons or glass. When the carton was full, we'd take the stuff back to the compost pile, dump it in, and rinse out that carton again to reuse. When I first married in 1975, I continued the practice 'cause it was all I knew, and my new husband looked at me like I was crazy. Today, I have my 'green' tote bags, which I keep a stash of in my car just in case. But, you know, I still use those milk cartons! Some habits die hard! HaHa
Donna5254 picture
In response to "Dealing with garbage". From my understanding there are biodegradeable bags available. I think they are made out of corn. One of our local stores "Indigo" carries them. They do have a web site. I've not purchased any so I do not know about the size or anything. I agree with the others that one step at a time is the way to go. Also talk to others. I have "converted" at least two others to using reusable bags. At Christmas time I purchase several bags and use them as gift bags. This also helps encourage those that received the bag as a gift to use it while shopping. So no wrapping paper trash, most of the bags are only 99¢ so I save money, and more people using reusable bags at the grocery store. That gets me excited.
ny2v picture
We use reusable shopping bags from several stores, but we also need to take care of rotting material in the trash pail in our home.. and we see no alternative but to use plastic bags, which have to keep some modicum of neatness for the entire week between trash pickups. We have a garden and a compost pile, and both benefit from the fruit and vegetable trash that feeds that system. Nevertheless, much trash has to go in that big truck every week, and leaving it open to the air invites all manner of problems, so we bag it. I see no alternative. Hey, the landfill itself just buries the stuff, and seals it in. They have not come up with any other answer, and they take trash from even NY City.. carted all the way here to get rid of it. Plastic bags are not going to be elimnated until somebody comes up with a short term storage alternative that is fully biodegradeable and that is affordable. So far, that need has not been met.
howdenjoyce picture
One step at a time. We will be an example and people will see it. They will follow. My daughter has moved out and actually brings her recycling to me. The rest of my family used to roll their eyes at me, but they've know it's all for the planet. And it really isn't that difficult. Our 7th generation TP isn't the softest, but they have stopped complaining. We now all remember to BYOB into all stores, not just the grocery store. I HAVE begun vermicomposting, even though I have an outside compost pile. In the winter, the pile is inactive so I keep the compost growing with my worms. My rain barrel is just a trash barrel under catching the rain. Nothing fancy but it saves money and water. It seems extreme to you now, but pretty soon it's all just a way of life. Keep up the good work.
bethina picture
Bet you can't guess how wide I'm smiling. Thanks!
heatherllevin picture
We're all doing the "one step a time" journey! Two years ago I became a fanatic recycler. A year ago, I was just cottoning on to the BYOB idea, and then I started my own green living blog, www.thegreenestdollar.com. This year? I'm about to start vermicomposting in my kitchen! Every journey is made up a million of small steps. And, we're all taking them together, which makes it really exciting! Nice job! We're with you!
4mybabies picture
One step at a time! I started with using Chico Bags because they were cute and compact, never thinking I'd be able to do much more, but now am building a rain barrel tonight and actually thinking about composting. Two years ago I would have NEVER thought I'd be this far!
hankster picture
Sustainability is a journey. Keep moving forward, and I'll do my best to do the same.