It’s Easy Being Bag-Free!

Years ago I went to a market in Saanen, Switzerland and, much to my chagrin, they did not provide a bag for me to carry my groceries back to the chalet. I purchased a string bag on the spot, and after that I never again forgot to take my own bag to the store in Europe.

More recently, while visiting my relatives in Holland, I noticed that my cousin, like many other Dutch shoppers, brought cardboard boxes each time she made a trip to the store. For larger items or quantities, boxes work even better than canvas bags.

My bicycle is equipped with two large saddle bags that hold two giant canvas bags of groceries or other items. For larger things like watermelons I hook-up my trusty bike cart or use my handy personal shopping cart which I purchased at Star Market for about $18.

I also keep a large sturdy attractive straw basket, an old back-pack and a variety of recycled bags and cloth bags permanently in the car. Storing the plastic and paper bags you already have on hand immediately in the car rather than stuffing them in a drawer and risk forgetting to bring them when you run to the market, is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment.

It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags Americans use each year. In addition, about 15 million trees are cut down to produce paper for paper bags. You can help reduce oil consumption and save trees simply by bringing your own bag on your next trip to the store.

Each sturdy reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

As other citizens of our beautiful valley have pointed out, the City of Ojai should adopt a Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. The facts and figures regarding the true cost of plastic bags are well-documented on web sites like which features a counting clock of plastic bags consumed this year. One million bags a minute are consumed, becoming trash and choking marine mammals.

Becoming a plastic-bag-free City is one more important step towards Ojai becoming a model Sustainable City. Local stores can look to stores like the Swedish furniture company, IKEA for ways to encourage customers to remember to bring their own re-usable bags. IKEA is charging shoppers in their U.S. stores five cents for each plastic bag. The move to charging for a bag helps to remind more people to bring a reusable sack. Stores should also credit customers five cents for each recycled bag used in bagging their groceries.

Ojai stores should take the lead and adopt bag reduction measures such as the above as soon as possible. There are numerous other ways to motivate customers to bring their own bags, boxes and baskets. Another step used by some stores is to provide a bin where customers can use re-cycled paper and plastic bags brought in by other customers, for those times they forget to bring their own.

Ojai stores could have a display with the Top Facts on the true cost and environmental impact of plastic bags. For example:
Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)
According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.

Plastic bags do not biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group harvests 30,000 per month.

According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].

Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Remember: Each high quality reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic and paper bags over its lifetime.

(Editorial, 2007)

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