Reusable Challenge!

Last month we focused on reducing sandwich bag waste, but there’s an even more prevalent waste of plastic out there – plastic shopping bags. While some cities have passed bag ban laws, many more places still allow them. This month, let’s take our impact-reduction to a new level and use reusable shopping bags when out and about.

Why Should I Do This?

To review from last month, plastics – while modern marvels – don’t biodegrade. They photodegrade, meaning they break down into smaller and smaller pieces until tiny organisms eat them and convert them to CO2. While we don’t know exactly how long this process takes, depending on environmental factors we can assume it takes 50-1000 years.

Many of these bags end up in water sources, killing plants and animals and providing transportation to non-native species.

And if you think substituting your plastic shopping bag with paper is better for the environment well…unfortunately paper bags require even more fossil fuels and water to produce than plastic bags!

What’s the Impact?

Americans throw away about 100 billion bags per year. That averages out to nearly one bag per person per day. Using a reusable shopping bag would mean that you could be saving a non-biodegradable and environmentally dangerous bag from being introduced into a landfill or water source every single day.

This also means saving 1.2 gallons of water and 0.66 pounds of fossil fuels each month, or nearly eight pounds of fossil fuels and 14.4 gallons of water in a year.

Producing one bag per person per day creates about 0.81 pounds of CO2 in a month and 0.33 pounds of solid waste. That’s 3.6 pounds of solid waste and 9.72 pounds of CO2 per person per year.

These numbers are only for the production of the material, and do not include transporting the bags and the environmental consequences after the bag is disposed of.

And while these numbers may seem small, they do make an impact, especially when compounded. An average US household had 2.53 people in 2016. If an entire household and not just an individual switched to reusable bags, it would save about 24.6 pounds of CO2 a year. That’s the equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving a car 6.34 miles. Just from using a different type of shopping bag! Talk about a low effort but big reward change!!

Additionally, plastics in the ocean are creating hundreds of dead zones where life is no longer possible, and over a million sea animals and birds are killed each year from total (not just bags) plastic pollution. Reducing plastic consumption and waste can help alleviate pressure on these animals and ecosystems.

How Can I Do This?

Carry a reusable shopping bag with you anytime you go to the store. If you don’t have a suitable reusable bag, you can pick one up almost anywhere. I happen to like Chico Bags

They’re lightweight and very compact, yet hold a ton of weight. I used them for all of my grocery shopping while living in Yosemite National Park and was shocked at how much volume and weight I could get into one.

Bonus Challenges:

  • Skip other bags, like for produce, too
  • Try to reduce other plastic waste such as packaging

Are you ready to make a simple change and make a big difference in your environmental impact? Let me know about it in the comments here or find me on social media (Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). I’ll be updating my monthly Pinterest challenge board as well!

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