Aloha (Goodbye!) to Plastic Bags!

Have you heard the incredible news that HAWAII has become the first STATE to BAN the use of PLASTIC BAGS at checkout counters?! The ban has already been enforced on the islands of Kauai and Maui, and the ban goes into effect on the Big Island of Hawaii next week. The most populated island, Oahu (home of Waikiki Beach and the state capital, Honolulu), will comply with the ban by July of 2015. In honor of this monumental step, I thought it would be a good time to post about some of the measures my family and I have taken to eliminate plastic bags (and other plastic items) from our lives. I rarely bring plastic bags home from stores, and I haven’t purchased any plastic storage bags in many months. I hope I will never again have the need. It’s not so hard to do.  Here are a few ways to get started:

Invest in reusable containers for school or work lunches:

Options include reusable sandwich bags, hard-sided containers, and thermoses. I found some great, dishwasher safe options at The Container Store, but several other options are out there if you do an internet search for reusable lunch containers/bags. We love Lunchskins bags for sandwiches, and the stackable stainless steel Ecolunchbox is a great option for a variety of foods. I often send dips or yogurt in the small dipping container (which comes with its own lid), accompanied by fruits, granola, veggies, or chips on the side. Don’t forget the reusable cutlery, and skip the juice boxes/pouches and send a reusable water bottle or thermos, too!

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Reusable sandwich bags by Lunchskins.

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My kids love using an Ecolunchbox. Don’t forget the reusable cutlery! This bamboo set includes chopsticks for added fun!

Reuse what you have:

If you’re like I am, you probably have a drawer devoted specifically to plastic storage bags. There’s no reason not to reuse the ones you already have after giving them a good soapy wash. I find that I rarely have a need for the bags anymore, but when I do, after using them I turn them inside out, wash, dry, and put away for use again. To aid the drying process, my son created a drying rack for me with Tinker Toys, which was a great way to put his creative skills to use!  In addition, numerous grocery items we regularly purchase come in plastic bags that are easy to clean and reuse, like the bags from bread loaves and tortillas (which often have the added bonus of being resealable).

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Plastic bag drying rack created with Tinker Toys.

BYOB — Bring your own bags:

By keeping several totes under the front seat of my car, I’ve finally gotten into the habit of bringing my own bags to the grocery story. The habit took some practice (and many dashes back to the car when I’d forget), but I am faithful about it now.  I also keep a compactly folded reusable tote in my purse to use when I am shopping at department stores or other retailers. When I forget to put it back in my purse, I simply try to refuse a bag whenever possible. I know I’ve looked pretty funny coming out of QT with my arms overloaded with milk, ice cream, juice and other miscellaneous items!

Now that I don’t have a steady stream of plastic grocery bags coming into the house, I’ve had to find other ways to dispose of our cat waste, but there is never a shortage of plastic bags around (sadly). Plastic bags from bread, chips, and other snack foods are perfect for pet waste!

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BYOB – bring your own bag! Not only to the grocery store, but to other retailers as well. Many bags will fold compactly and slip into a pocket in your purse.

Keep a few straws and reusable utensils in your car, and bring your own take-home containers to restaurants:

Keeping reusable straws and utensils in your glove compartment saves plastic when you are grabbing a quick meal on the go. (When dining out, my family always refuses the straws, but they are handy in the car). On a recent road trip, my family each brought our own reusable bamboo straw to use when we stopped for lunch. Once we got to our destination, we washed the straws in the dishwasher and returned them to the car. (The same company that makes the straws, Brush with Bamboo, primarily sells bamboo toothbrushes, which my family has also adopted in lieu of plastic ones.) Like the straws, the cute pink spoons I reluctantly took awhile ago when we stopped for frozen yogurt one afternoon now stay in my glove box to be used whenever we stop for a frozen treat. I’m still working on trying to remember to bring my own reusable containers to restaurants for leftover food. Maybe they’ll find a spot in my car next!

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Reusable straws and utensils stay in the glove box of my car.

Hopefully, we are all aware of the tremendous harms that plastics have on the environment, as well as the fact that recycling them only postpones their impact on the earth, as well as degrading it in the process. If you haven’t watched the heartbreaking footage of the birds on Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean, you need to see it: http://www.upworthy.com/people-should-know-about-this-awful-thing-we-do-and-most-of-us-are-simply-unaware. In addition, who has not yet seen the horror stories (like this one here–http://csglobe.com/gray-whale-dies-bringing-us-message/#comment-1911) of  animals like whales and sea turtles who suffer painful, slow deaths after ingesting plastic items inadvertently or mistaking them for food?

I loved the opening to the recent Huff Post article about the big news from Hawaii and will share it here as my hopeful conclusion:  “Imagine a future where endless balls of plastic bags aren’t jammed underneath the kitchen sink, where the idea of a “plastic bag holder” is as quaint as a CD rack, and where that famous scene in “American Beauty” prompts children to ask their parents about the bygone days of plastic bag pollution.”

Can you picture it?!?

What measures have you taken to eliminate plastic bags and other plastics in your daily life? Please share your ideas here!

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20 thoughts on “Aloha (Goodbye!) to Plastic Bags!

  1. Great post mate!

    You’ve really given some key ideas to reduce the consumption of Plastic consumption in our daily lives 🙂

    Would apply some of these in my own day to day life and will let you know!

    Would love a feedback from you on my blog about Minimalism and Simplicity.

    Do check it out and great to connect with you. Cheers!

  2. Melanie, what do you do about produce bags at the store? I don’t mind putting three lemons loose in my cart, but a big pile if potatoes, small hot peppers, or loose strawberries at DeKalb Farmers Market need a bag. Bring your bags would significantly add to the weight and cost of these items.

    • I generally just leave produce items loose, but your raise a good point. Would bringing old bread bags or reusing produce bags from previous purchases work? I try to save a variety of hefty plastic bags (like those from apples or potatoes) as well as bread bags to use again.

  3. I have almost eliminated plastic bags and plastic in general from my life. I carry a reusable tote with me wherever I go, this also holds my stainless steel water bottle. For trash, since I compost all my food waste there isn’t any thing gross or wet and smelly going into my trash so I am able to toss things into a small container (I am also striving for zero waste with only one small container needing emptied every 4-6 weeks) and then empty it into the dumpster for pick up.

    As for produce question, Lori asked, I had a thin pair of sheer curtains (originally from ikea) that I cut up and created my own washable bags to fill when at the store. I simply cut rectangular pieces from the curtains which I then hemmed on two opposite ends, then folded it in half and sewed up each side. I even carry these with me to the farmers’ market.

  4. I have bamboo cutlery and stainless steel straws that go everywhere with us (along with stainless lunchboxes and waterbottles) at first our teenage daughters were so “not with the programme” (!) but slowly they appreciated the textures and quality and are gradually coming on board 🙂

    • I like the idea of stainless straws! I try to remember my own cup, too, but some places won’t let you use them. 😦 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Pingback: Friday Faves, January 10 | Living Simply Free

  6. Great post!

    FYI–my wife made produce bags out of old t-shirts. She made them with little holes and handles. People always look strangely at us but gives us a reason to explain the reasoning.

    • That’s an awesome idea, Hank! We’ve actually made one of those bags ourselves. Time to make some more! Thanks for checking out my post. Hugs to you and your beautiful girls!

  7. I’ve also been trying to get rid of all the plastic in my house. Tupperware was great once upon a time but after many years they have a smell to them that transfers to flour, sugar, etc. so I’ve replaced all these types of containers with glass. I reuse my ziplocs until they are full of holes! (love the Tinker Toy drying rack!)

    As for the produce bags, great idea to use old pillowcases and such – I guess you have to ensure you have the codes visible for the cashiers to see! I’m not there yet but it’s coming.

    In Québec we have had to pay for plastic bags for years so more and more people are toting their own – and slowly also at other stores.

    I also love the stainless steel lunchbox idea. My boys’ lunchboxes are, of course, plastic and they too get a hum after a few years, plus they fall apart. I’ll have to look into that – can’t be too childish as they are highschoolers!

    • Thanks for the comments, Dale! I didn’t realize you live in Quebec! It’s such a beautiful province. No wonder you have all that snow! I went to school in Burlington, Vermont, and we used to cross the border to buy beer–haha! My family visited Quebec City when I was a teen, too. It’s lovely!
      I didn’t even think to write about my glass containers instead of Tupperware. I love the glass ones. Mason jars work well, too, for lots of things like soups, beans, etc.
      I didn’t realize my name wouldn’t show up when I commented on your recent post. Glad you figured it out. 🙂 I haven’t had as much time for blogging or reading blogs as I’d like lately, but I always enjoy yours when I get the chance to look. Glad to know another green-minded soul!

      • Yep, live on the south-shore of Montreal. It is absolutely beautiful. Ha ha! crossing the border for beer! That’s fun. You know, I’ve not really visited Quebec City! Crazy but true and on my to-do list. It’s only 2.5 hours away and I’ve driven through it many a time just never really stopped…
        We are big fans of Vermont (you know, they did want to join Canada at one time!) and go camping quite often. Gorgeous state.
        Yep, my Mason jars are used not only for canning but for beans, rice, etc. too.
        I only figured it out because someone posted your name! It doesn’t appear on your “about me” page either! 😉
        Have a great day!

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