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Soul of the Desert

One Million Bags

Austin recently banned stores from providing non-resuable plastic bags. You know the ones. Everyone uses them in grocery stores, Home Depot–your typical plastic bag, just like the one blowing outside in your street this morning.

Before you start thinking too highly of Austin being great environmentalists, the truth is: They are out of dumping grounds. They’ve been fighting for years to expand or to buy shares in neighboring landfills. They are having to pay higher prices to get rid of trash and truck it further away. Thus, they are taking various steps and one of them was to ban the typical plastic grocery bag. Millions and millions of them clog the landfills.

I shop in Austin stores now and then since I’m right on the border of it and Cedar Park. One of the larger HEB grocery stores is on the Austin side and they are affected by the ban. The first time I shopped there after the ban, hardly anyone had their reusable bags, despite numerous notices. These days, a mere month later, almost everyone has them. If they don’t, rather than pay for bags, they will usually just throw everything back in the cart and then into the car.

Think about it. A month. In a very large city. Almost No One is using plastic, throw-them-out, bags. Sure, there are still millions in cupboards, those ones we all save for the “I might need a bag.” But instead of getting millions more, the entire city of Austin is now re-using bags. Some of them are plastic, but they are larger, thicker and have handles. They cost money so aren’t likely to be tossed aside after one or two uses. 900,000 people are going to the grocery, to the hardware store, to Wal-mart and they are not getting one-time use plastic bags.

The lady in front of me today had a full cart of groceries. If she had bagged that the old way, I estimate it would have been fifteen or more plastic bags. Instead, her groceries were packed tightly into five large bags (two were cloth and the others looked like sturdy plastic/cloth mixed.) And she’ll use those bags again.

In one month, I wonder how many fewer bags made it to the landfill? Think about it. In one year, one city, how many fewer bags will be in a dump, in the street, or wrapped around a light pole?

I’ve used cloth bags for going on twelve years. Every now and then we’d get a plastic bag at a store, but those bags were always stashed and re-used because where else do you put that noxious xyz that you don’t want directly in your garbage can?

It’s not hard to do once you’re in the habit of stashing cloth bags in your car. The ones I have are called boat bags and they can handle 4 bottles of 2 liter soda or two gallons of milk. In the case of today’s shopping expedition, 10 bags of pasta, tortillas and mushrooms. I own several of the canvas bags, as well as smaller bags and a cold-case bag that is lined and insulated for milk and cheese. Dang. I forgot to buy ice cream…

I’m kind of amazed at the bag ban, but it’s really great to see people bringing their own bags. Most don’t seem to mind one bit. It’s just a habit.

IMG_1286 One of my bags is a GreenBagLady bag. And it turns out, she is giving away bags this morning. Entry is easy. Enter your email address in the comments (disguised so it doesn’t get picked up by spam bots). She selects winners and sends out free grocery bags. They are good for potatoes, onions, pasta…you name it. The patterns are beautiful (mine is paisley) and the fabric is donated by various fabric and sewing companies.

I wonder how much petroleum it takes to make one million bags?

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Posted: May 22, 2013


  1. Thanks Maria–I’m going to add a link to this on Photo Finish Friday this week!


    Comment by Green Bag Lady — May 22, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

  2. Thank YOU for spreading around GREAT bags!!!

    Comment by Maria — May 22, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

  3. I wish more cities would do this. I know they did it over on the west coast somewhere, San Fran maybe, but down here those plastic bags are everywhere. I carry my cloth bags most of the time – I don’t have enough to always keep them in the car and still have some in use, plus I’m lazy, I just forget to put them back in the car. However, we do shop at Aldi quite often and they don’t do bags. They’ll sell you one but generally you either use your own bags or the cardboard boxes they keep around for that purpose.

    Comment by April V. — May 23, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

  4. Sounds like you need to enter over at GreenBagLady and get yourself another bag!

    Comment by Maria — May 23, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

  5. Always hated plastic bags – totally worthless. Paper all the way!

    Comment by Max Power — May 24, 2013 @ 8:10 am

  6. Get thee over to GreenBagLady and win yourself a nice cloth bag. Or, you can come play the “best book of the month” game with us next month and win one that I made. 🙂 That would be amusing, wouldn’t it?

    Comment by Maria — May 24, 2013 @ 8:13 am

  7. I wish every city would put that ban into effect. Though you’re right about using the bags for other things. I keep a stash for when the dog poops/hurls in the house or I use them as trash bags in our vehicles. I’ve been using recyclable bags for probably a decade now. If not longer. In fact, some of my bags are finally wearing out. Time to replace a few of them.

    Comment by A Voracious Reader — May 24, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  8. Ten years ago when I was using cloth bags, I was the only one. Five years ago I started seeing some bags. After the ban I still see some people putting their groceries in the cart with no bags at all, but the vast majority of people are now using re-usable bags. I can’t help but think it has to happen. California spends 103 million or something like that cleaning up plastic water bottles and bags. NY spends at least that much. We’re paying for those bags one way or the other. May as well get the cloth ones!

    Comment by Maria — May 24, 2013 @ 11:13 am

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