Earth Friendly: Paper or plastic? Try reusable bags instead

April 7, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 6, 2010 at 11:07 p.m.

By Meridith Byrd When I was younger, I remember grocery baggers asking "paper or plastic?" before bagging our groceries. Now, many stores have moved away from paper completely and offer only plastic bags for carrying purchases.

An inexpensive alternative, however, is to switch to reusable bags. A number of stores have begun offering them in recent years, and many sell them for around $1.

Reusable bags are wonderful - they are sturdy, so they can hold a lot of items. The long handles allow you to put them on your shoulder, leaving your hands free.

These bags do not have to be used just for shopping. We have taken ours camping and used them to pack non-perishable foods, carried them along to garage sales to hold our newly-found treasures, and used them when moving to pack things such as books and DVDs.

When beginning to collect reusable bags, don't get hung up on buying them all at once. If you put one or two in your cart each time you shop, it will only add a couple dollars to the grocery bill. Keep collecting until you have enough to meet your needs.

The next trick is to remember to use them, so putting them in the trunk of the car is no good. They need to be more accessible. Write a note to yourself on your grocery list or set a reminder on your cell phone to remember your bags. If you can, place them in the front seat of the car to remind yourself to bring them along.

Some people have expressed concern about using reusable bags for both grocery and retail shopping. You can eliminate this concern by designating some bags as grocery bags and others as shopping bags.

Take your shopping bags to the mall or anywhere you shop and ask the sales clerks to put your purchases in them.

Reusable produce bags are on the market, as well. I bought mine from Ecobags ( and get lots of compliments on them from other shoppers. About the same size as plastic produce bags, they are made from cotton, are machine washable, and sell in packs of five for $15. I have had mine for about four years now and have never had to replace them - no rips, no seams coming apart, no problems.

Think about taking steps to reduce your use of plastic bags. How many times have you bought only a birthday card or a loaf of bread and carried it out in a bag? If you only buy one or two items at a store, ask the clerk not to bag them, so that you can carry them out by hand.

As hard as you might try, and I try extremely hard, it is nearly impossible to forego plastic bags completely. Even the newspaper is bagged in plastic each morning. Be sure to reuse or recycle the plastic bags you do accumulate. Bags may be used to line garbage cans or to pick up pet waste. Collect the bags you are not able to reuse, including grocery bags, shopping bags, newspaper bags and others, and recycle them. Our local H-E-B stores have bins at the entrances where customers can drop their plastic bags to be recycled.

Reusable grocery and shopping bags are inexpensive, making it easy to get your money's worth, and reduce your consumption of plastic bags.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites read ers to contact her at



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