I never thought I’d see this day: My family has run out of plastic bags.
We used to have several giant plastic bags filled with smaller grocery-sized plastic bags hanging on hooks in our garage. Back in the day, I wouldn’t even give that stash of plastic bags a second thought. They came in handy, after all—we would use them to clean up after our dog, for example. And I’m from the generation that was taught that choosing a plastic bag was a better environmental choice than a paper bag, because every time we used a paper bag, we were killing a tree.
I realize that in today’s world that last sentence sounds kind of ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure that if Rip Van Winkle fell into a coma in 1984 and woke up in 2019, he’d be stunned to find paper bags making a comeback in grocery stores, and would probably expect to find a barren global landscape devoid of trees as a result. He’d almost certainly be baffled at the concept of bringing your own reusable bags with you to the store.
Over the last year or two, after seeing story after story about whales and dolphins (my favorite creatures on earth) being found dead with tons of plastic bags in their stomachs, and after being educated by my smarter friends about how hard it is to truly recycle plastic, and how most of our plastic ends up in landfills where it can take upwards of 500 years to decompose, I decided to take a couple of baby steps toward doing my part to decrease the use of plastic.
Keep Reusable Grocery Bags in The Car
Baby Step One involved stocking up on about 5 reusable grocery bags which I keep in my car so that even if I make a spontaneous decision to go shopping, I will only have to walk back to my car to get them when I forget to bring them into the store with me—which literally happens every time I go. Every. Single. Time. (Thankfully, I almost never forget to wear my Fitbit, so I get credit for all of those extra steps. Always look for that silver lining.)
As of last week, our eternal stockpile of plastic bags is completely gone, and my husband is kind of beside himself, wondering how we’re going to clean up after the dog… He doesn’t really like my solution, which is to buy biodegradable pet waste bags that fit into a handy dandy (albeit plastic) holder that attaches to the dog leash. I mean, spending money on bags that we used to hoard for free? That’s crazy talk. But it makes me feel good, like maybe I’m helping out my dolphin friends in some tiny way.
Choose Tap Water More Often
Baby Step Two involves trying to decrease the amount of plastic water bottles we consume in our family. Bottled water is another one of those things that Rip Van Winkle would be baffled by. There is a legendary tale in our family about how my husband’s parents were approached by an innovative entrepreneur back in the 1980s. He was planning to bottle water from a nearby spring and sell it for individual consumption, and was looking for investors. My mother-in-law thought this was the most ridiculous idea she’d ever heard—who in their right mind would pay for WATER, of all things, when you can get it straight from your tap? Needless to say, they did not invest. Needless to say, we would all probably be gazillionaires by now if they had.
But as society is just starting to realize, the popularity of the convenient single-use water bottles has been pretty detrimental to our environment, polluting the oceans and overflowing landfills. Even the recycling process is messy and expensive, and the job is often shipped overseas to countries like China, who no longer want to do this kind of dirty work for us.
So I’m really trying. I still keep bottled water on hand for three main reasons, which I know environmentalists will frown upon, but here they are: A. It’s super convenient to have on hand to offer to visitors who are on the go; B. I prefer my kids drink water over soda, and if it’s available in a handy plastic bottle, they’re more likely to go for the water; and C. Sometimes the water from our tap tastes kind of funky; bottled water never gets that funky taste.
Yes, we’re still guilty of using plastic water bottles, but, like I said—baby steps. We’ve cut back big time. I personally am trying to lead my family by example, so I carry an insulated water bottle with me to the gym and almost everywhere else I go—and I’ve found it keeps the water so cold, it tastes much better. And I’ll no longer tolerate finding hundreds of half-consumed water bottles strewn about the house. Anyone who starts drinking from a plastic bottle must put their initials on the cap with a Sharpie so they can finish it later.
Oh, and here’s a bonus Baby Step— I ditched our Keurig coffee maker a l-o-n-g time ago, because I hated using all of those little plastic pods. This was before the big anti-plastic crusade, but it was clear to me from the beginning that all of that waste could not be a good idea. Besides—French pressed coffee tastes SO much better, involves no waste, and it’s super easy.
I realize we have a long way to go to really make an impact, and it’s virtually impossible for us ordinary, mainstream Americans to completely eliminate plastic from our daily lives. But taking a few baby steps in the right direction can’t hurt, right? I’m not judging anyone who uses plastic grocery bags and drinks from plastic water bottles, but I do hope you’ll challenge yourself to cut back, even just a little bit. It’s not that hard to do, and it will make you feel good!