6 October 2017

The easy guide to going plastic bag free

I'm veteran reusable bagger. I remember doing it when travelling around Europe in 1996, and while living in England after that until 2001. The English thought it was quite strange, and I felt quite rude having to intercept them from giving me plastic bags.

Nowadays there's a real whiff in the air in New Zealand telling me that tide is really changing to reusable bags over plastic. Countdown supermarkets have just announced they're phasing out plastic bags at the checkout. New World supermarket is running a poll asking its customers whether it should charge for plastic bags. Boomerang bags are being lent out at the local Farmer's Market. These are made from donated fabric scraps by volunteers and lent out to whoever wants them. (Here's a link to the pattern in case you want to sew one.)

My bag strategy

Firstly, get some big bags to replace the standard supermarket bag. My favourite are these Envirosax, and I have three. They're beautiful, roomy and incredibly durable (the first one I was given must be getting up to 10 years old now, and I also use them for rough things like collecting pinecones). Crucially, they compact down to a very small size. Remembering to take your reusable bags to the supermarket is THE biggie for many people. Mine are always in my handbag, and I never have to take them out because they're taking up too much room.

Those bulky ones that the supermarkets give out are just too bulky to carry with you always. That's their downfall. The supermarkets like them, though, because they are branded.

Secondly, produce bags. If you're like most people, you already have big reusable bags, but still use plastic bags for fruit and veg. Cut it out, will ya?!

Admittedly it was only a year or so ago I got this sorted myself. I chose Pouch Products' reusable produce bags, after testing a couple of other options. These scrunch up small, are incredibly light so you're not paying for the weight of a heavy bag on top of the price of your produce, and they stretch to hold an unbelievable amount of fruit (or nuts/oats/seeds/beans from bulk bins). Honestly, just take the plunge and buy a five-pack - it is $25 well spent.

Neither type are compostable or organic, but they have reduced and will continue to reduce the need for so much plastic in their lifetime that it doesn't matter.

Take them everywhere

If you carry a handbag, you'll always have your compact bags with you. There's no need to get bags from any shop at all, even high class clothing shops (you're right, I never go there - but if I did I would whip out my reusable bag, quick smart).

If you don't carry a handbag, I don't know how you'll manage. Stuff at least one in your pocket. Keep them in the glovebox of the car.

Keep them clean

You want something you can wash, or else it will start to smell. Mine just go through the washing machine.

But I reuse my plastic bags

There are so many plastic bags in this world that you need never take a single-use one. I save and wash the plastic bags that continue to come into our house as food packaging. I use them mostly for storing fruit and veges in the fridge to stop them wilting, and for storing leftovers in the freezer.

But some bags are biodegradeable

So they say. But it turns out that most 'biodegradable' bags just disintegrate into minuscule pieces - the type that fish swallow. You probably eat the fish. And soft plastic recycling depots don't want them either.

Ban the bag!

Countries as diverse as Bangladesh and France have banned or taxed plastic bags (there is a list of them here). China has banned thin plastic bags. New Zealand has not, and the government is refusing to do so, so it's fantastic to see supermarkets leading the charge - no doubt with pressure from their customers.

I spoke to the manager of our local New World a few months ago. They currently give a 5 cent rebate per reusable bag. This has been the outcome of that friendly rebate:
- They give out 30% fewer plastic bags
- One in three customers brings their own bags
Plastic bags (the checkout type) cost the supermarket 8 cents each

There's quite a debate about whether it's best to punish people by charging for bags or reward them with a rebate for bringing their own. Neither works completely - Pak'nSave has charged for years (perhaps always) and every time I go there I see people buying those yellow plastic bags. And I sigh. Surely most of them knew they were going to the supermarket when they left home?

If there are no bags available, people will just have to get into the habit of taking their own - and once something becomes a habit it is mindlessly easy. If they forget - maybe they could take off their shirt and use it?! Especially if they're not women! You'd only have to do it once and you'd remember from then on!


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