4 Ways to Reduce the Use of Plastic Bags

Jane Marsh - January 1, 2021

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Each year, the average American uses 365 plastic bags. Meanwhile, about 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans where it litters marine environments and decimates wildlife populations. These bags will last up to 1,000 years before finally decomposing. From a sustainability perspective, it’s important to understand and take responsibility for the role you play in this vicious cycle — find ways to reduce the use of plastic bags. Moreover, it’s crucial that you take steps to reduce your plastic bag use and help others do the same. Here’s what you can do to help. 

1. Refuse

Of course, refusing to use plastic bags is the most effective way to cut down on usage. When you go visit the grocery store, turn down those ugly brown sacks and opt to use a paper one instead. Some supermarkets also offer reusable bags that you can purchase for less than a dollar. That’s a small price to pay for being more eco-friendly! Plus, some of them even feature insulation so you can peruse more aisles.  

If you aren’t a fan of the ones sold at your local grocery store, find a sustainable alternative. Make your own fabric bags or purchase one made of mesh, canvas, cotton or even recycled plastic. You might also make smaller grocery runs, opting to carry everything by hand. Buy in bulk to minimize trips and keep your list short. 

2. Reuse 

Despite your best efforts, a few plastic bags may still end up in your car or home. When they do, minimize their impact on the earth and keep them out of the landfill for a little while longer by reusing them. Collect plastic bags and use them as trash can liners. Wrap wet paintbrushes and rollers in plastic bags to keep them moist for hours or use them to line your paint tray for easy clean up. 

You can also reuse unwanted bags to pick up after your dog, protect fragile items during a move or even construct a mini greenhouse in your home. Eventually, you will have to toss these bags as most of these ideas will soil them after another use. However, reusing them once or twice will help you avoid buying other items like trash liners, multiple paint trays, packing peanuts, and doggie poop bags that just create more waste. 

3. Repurpose  

Turning old plastic sacks into more than just sacks is another brilliant way to reduce your overall use. Plus, depending on how you repurpose them, you may be able to keep this plastic out of the landfill for good. If you’re in need of a few ideas, the internet is teeming with good ones. However, you can just as easily look around your home and find innovative new ways to put those bags to good use. 

Are you in need of a few pillows to compliment your patio furniture? Transform your sitting area by stuffing some outdoor pillow covers with plastic bags. Tired of scrounging around in your purse for change? Turn your shopping sacks into a stylish coin pouch. You can even make outdoor pom pom lights, crochet tote bags, decorative bows, and envelopes with your old plastic bags. Sharpen your craft skills by making extra upcycled gifts for friends and family.

4. Recycle 

Sometimes, you have more plastic bags than you can repurpose or reuse. In this case, recycling them is the most eco-friendly option. Unfortunately, most curbside recycling programs don’t accept plastic wraps or films because they require special sorting and processing machines. Otherwise, they can jam conveyor belts and cause technical problems at recycling facilities. Therefore, you may have to take them to a drop-off location such as the retail store from whence they came so they can recycle them

Some companies also specialize in turning plastic bags into new products so you don’t have to. For instance, Trex collects used grocery bags, bread bags, case overwrap, newspaper sleeves and similar items. The company then uses these plastics to make composite lumber for decks. Diverting your grocery bags to these recycling programs will ensure they don’t pollute the environment and that they improve another’s quality of life. Recycling has never been so cool. 

Be a Leader to Find Ways to Reduce the Use of Plastic Bags

Once you realize ways to reduce the use of plastic bags, you’ll be responsible for sharing this information with everyone around you. Whether you’re a business or a consumer, you have an important role to play — and a platform where you can inspire others. 

Take initiative and prompt widespread change by educating friends and family members about plastic waste and recycling options. Collect bags from your neighbors and turn them into gifts to inspire them to repurpose them, too. You might even start your own collection or recycling program or partner with a local outreach to learn how you can support larger initiatives. Regardless of how you reduce your plastic bag use, any effort you make will be a step in the right direction. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.