How To: Stop Using Plastic Bags

Learn how to stop using plastic bags:

When looking at a worldwide problem, it seems nearly impossible to stop yourself from asking, “But what can one person’s actions really achieve? Am I really going to make that much of a difference?”

When it comes to using plastics, the answer is always yes.

Take plastic bags for example: The average family in the United States accumulates around 60 plastic bags in a mere four trips to the grocery store. If that family went to the grocery store four times a month and made even one simple change – to bring their own bags – they would save over 700 plastic bags each year.

One of the simplest ways to reduce the impact of plastic pollution is to stop using plastic bags. Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed globally and only roughly 1 in 200 gets recycled.

Plastic bags take anywhere from 10-1,000 years to degrade by breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, building up in the natural environment, affecting wildlife, habitats, and human populations.

And aside from being non-biodegradable, plastic bags are a nuisance both in the environment and in the home—floating in the ocean, being eaten by wild and domestic animals, clogging drainage systems, and penetrating agricultural soil. By reducing your plastic bag use, you’re practicing a more cyclical lifestyle that not only reduces waste, but saves money and resources in the long run.

This may seem like an unrealistic goal for the average individual, but it doesn’t have to be! There are several steps that you can take to reduce your plastic bag use and eventually stop using plastic bags entirely.

  • Be aware. First, simply realize how many plastic bags you use throughout any given day; per week; per month. The first step in changing a habit is to recognize it in the first place. Start paying attention to how often you use plastic bags, how quickly you discard them, and in what circumstances you could go without one.
  • Decline the bag. Once you’re actively noticing your bag usage, start putting it into practice. Decline the bag! Buying one or two items at the grocery store? Opt to carry them out of the store in your hands, rather than using a plastic bag. See if the store has paper alternatives. Decline the plastic bag you’re offered for your carry-out containers. By simply pausing to consider the necessity of the bag you’re offered, you can begin to reduce your plastic bag use.
  • Recycle, recycle, recycle. Opt to either recycle your plastic bags at home, or try to return them to the store you received them from. If plastics are going to be in circulation, the best case scenario is that they are recycled into other usable materials. 
  • Reuse. Notice you’ve been collecting a lot of plastic bags lately? Reuse them. Plastic bags can be used throughout the house as small bin liners, to hold other recycling, or on your next grocery trip.
  • Use reusable bags. What better way to reduce your plastic bag use than to stop using them? There are so many alternatives to plastic bags that can be used over and over again. Cotton, durable plastic, jute—Just to name a few. There are a variety of options out there for each individual. Find the right reusable bag for you and carry it with you, leave it in your car, or bring it to work, so that it’s on-hand when you need it.
  • Bring your own produce bags. Even when you bring your own bag to the grocery store, it seems nearly impossible to avoid plastic bags in the produce aisle. One of the best ways to stop using plastic bags entirely in the grocery store is to bring your own reusable produce bags
  • Stop using plastic bin liners. A common household offender that often gets overlooked is the garbage bin liner. Each plastic bin liner goes directly into the landfill once it leaves your doorstep. An easy way to avoid this is to buy biodegradable bin liners, or opt to use newspaper to line your bins.
  • Educate and act! Look into recycling options in your community. Seek alternatives to other plastic items you use in your household. Ask your local grocer or shopping mall to start carrying more eco-friendly alternatives. Petition your local congressman to ban, tax, or create deposit schemes for your city or state. Tell a friend.

Plastic pollution is becoming more and more of an overwhelming problem, and it’s become obvious that action must be taken to solve it. Single-use plastics, like plastic bags, are some of the most prevalent and preventable pollutants, making them priority number one for individuals, businesses, and governments all over the world. 

Reducing your plastic bag use is not only manageable, but also one of the most perceptible changes you can make to your lifestyle, making it an easy target for change. Try some, or all, of these tips and challenge yourself to stop using plastic bags altogether. As you begin to do so, see how quickly your kitchen cabinet becomes uncluttered, your trash less full, and your footprint smaller.