Of all the challenges and modifications, we’ve made in our lives since the pandemic began, how our groceries are bagged might have seemed like one of least of those changes, but now it’s time to bring them back. For well over a year we haven’t been able to use our green bags unless we bagged our groceries ourselves. For many of us, even going inside a grocery store was off the table for most of the last year so we requested paper bags, and sometimes got them. Nearly half the time, we still arrived home with a truck full of plastic.
Just a little over a week ago our region removed nearly all pandemic restrictions. It is now a mask off, dance off party at the grocery store and just about everywhere else. Social distancing, gathering restrictions, all of it …. gone. Today’s quick run into the grocery store included my green bags that have waited patiently in the car for this moment. The cashier scanned three onions and dropped them into a plastic bag. Ugh. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am” I explained, “I brought green bags, I don’t want any plastic.” She pulled the onions out of the bag and tossed them toward me. “I can’t touch your bag because of Covid.”
To be fair, a year ago I was disinfecting everything that came into our house and to be honest, I don’t mind bagging my own groceries.
Whether a store still has a no-green-bag-touching policy or an employee just isn’t comfortable touching your bag, now that we’re going back in the stores it’s time to bring the green bags back in with us. We’ve become accustomed already to bagging our own purchases in self-checkout lines and in discount stores such as Aldi’s.
Here’s a few fast facts for motivation-
- In the United States, we go through 100 BILLION plastic bags every year / worldwide A TRILLION per year which equates to 2 MILLION plastic bags used EVERY MINUTE
- Only around 9% of film plastic is recycled
- China’s 2018 restrictions on imported waste reduced their acceptance of film plastic for recycling- All film plastic recycling is down by 24% from where it was before 2016
- The cost of making film plastic new from cheap oil vs from recycled plastic has become cost competitive resulting in much less demand for recycled plastic
Reusable Cups- Whether your favorite to-go cup is glass, stainless steel or ceramic, every time you fill it up you keep a foam, plastic or paper cup out of a landfill. The option of taking that favorite cup into a gas station, fast food restaurant or coffee shop didn’t exist for the last year+. Many of these places are once again allowing refills. 25 BILLION foam cups are thrown away every year in in the United States, worldwide, over 500 BILLION plastic cups, 14 MILLION TONS of foam and 16 BILLION disposable coffee cups are produced every year ~Earthday.org
Recycling helps but it won’t solve the problem of plastic pollution in our in our living environment, in our lakes and streams, in our soil, or in birds and aquatic animals. In 2010 there were over 60,000 small-scale plastic recycling businesses in China. The people who recycled the plastic became sick with everything from lung disease to high blood pressure. The land around them became sick and the water poisoned. There is no good way to recycle plastic. There is no good way to make plastic. The only good way to solve the problem is to refuse to use it as often as you can while still recycling the small amounts that make it into your home.
Ventilators, syringes and IV tubes are also made out of plastic and these items save lives every day, especially this last year. Plastic is here to stay and in cases such as medical use it should be heralded.
You can’t buy cottage cheese in a glass container. You can’t buy bread in a paper bag. You can use a green bag and a reusable cup. These might seem like tiny steps toward a mountain of problems, but they are steps in the right direction and there’s no better time to start taking them than now.
Audrey L Elder