Plastic Bags No More (& The Great Garbage Patch)

I don’t accept plastic bags for my items at stores very often. But when I do, I feel super guilty about it.

I have pile of reusable bags from various stores I frequent that’s impressive enough to make me look like a bag lady, but they don’t cover all the places I go. And I have this weird thing about feeling like an idiot shopping a Kroger with a reusable Meijer bag, so I don’t. Which is stupid. I know. I have done it, but it’s not how I generally operate. I need to get over it. Or get generic bags (and I’ll happily accept donations of snazzy bags!).

Bag Lady's Backseat 2.2011

I am stubborn enough to walk out of a store with my purse (thankfully it’s usually oversized) stuffed full of my purchases when it’s physically possible, or with my arms so full it’s likely something will tumble to the ground. All of this hassle as a way to not take a plastic bag.

Sadly, there are lots of times I accept the bag. Mostly out of laziness. Sometimes because it really would be impractical to not take a bag and I forgot to bring one of mine into the store. I tell myself it’s OK because I reuse them as lunch bags until they get holey, then I toss them in recycling.

For the most part, I do utilize reusable bags though. Made out of fabric, canvas or recycled materials, they’re sturdier than plastic, usually have handles long enough to sling over the shoulder and allow for several more items to be stuffed into one bag. They even look nice. Many stores, like Whole Foods and Target even support our efforts by offering discounts on the bill for each reusable bag. As if all that wasn’t convincing enough, using them means less bags will end up in a heap of trash for eternity — or floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Somehow, I was ignorant to this swirling mass of trash estimated to be the size of Texas which is mostly between Hawaii and San Francisco. Really, according to NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, it’s made up of millions of smaller “islands” of (literally) tons of trash that are impossible to get a handle on so far. Another patch was discovered in the Atlantic last year. Yet another thing that I found stunning and appalling. Also another quite amazing way that the Earth has reconciled with something man-made, or rather hasn’t exactly figured out how to.

In the middle of the ocean, the currents of the North Pacific Gyre are unforgiving to trash that’s made its way off the coast and never escapes the calm center. Greenpeace has an animation to show how it all works. Similar to what I wrote about with the baby albatrosses being fed diets of plastic (and other junk), other animals are as well, or they of course become entangled in the trash.

You may not think that using plastic bags really matters all that much, but I love this video (narrated by Jeremy Irons) that shows the life of a plastic bag and how it eventually can end up in the Garbage Patch and think it’s enlightening.

Maybe your plastic bags won’t ever end up there. I live in Michigan, so my plastic making it across the country seems somewhat unlikely. But think of it on a more local level if you need to. Think of the animals in your area who could eat it if its littered or simply escapes the recycle bin, not to mention all the resources like petroleum that go into their creation. Finally, consider the fact that they will never, ever leave the world. You grab a plastic bag at the pharmacy to drop your cold medicine in for the 30 second walk to your car then into your house. Compare the time you’ll use that bag to how long it will stay on this Earth — it will outlive all of us.

The green-thinking lawmakers have even begun to enact measures that incentivize using the reusable bags or outlaw the disposable plastic bags. Might as well get ahead of the curve.

So let’s do the best we can. Make sure to reuse and recycle, recycle, recycle! Spread the word about the Garbage Patch because it just might open someone’s eyes. And finally, pledge to stop using the one-time use plastic. There are even websites, like the Plastic Pollution Coalition, that make it simple for us to do it. I just took the leap. No more half-assing it for me.


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