January 1, 2019

The Plastic Problem: Reusable Produce Bags

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

Onions and potatoes in my new reusable produce bags.

Happy New Year!

Do you have any resolutions this year? One resolution of mine is to blog more often — hopefully I can do better in 2019. The last two years have been very busy with work, studying part-time, and a baby/young child.

Another resolution of mine is to reduce my use of single-use plastics (or limited use plastics — for example, cheap plastic items that break easily), which are an enormous problem. For much of my life, I was blissfully unaware of the environmental problem of consuming so many throw-away plastics. I didn’t think about it very much. Over the past couple of years, I have become acutely aware of the problem. This is partly due to the increased media attention that this problem is receiving, which inspired me to speak with some scientist friends who know about the problem — for example, some oceanographer friends.

Now that I am aware of the problem and know a little about it, I see plastics with new eyes. I now painfully observe how much plastic is unnecessarily used and thrown away — and how difficult it is to obtain items (just about anything!) without plastic.

To be honest, plastic is so pervasive in our society that it seems overwhelming — and, to be honest, a little futile — to try to meaningfully reduce plastic use in your own life. It can certainly be inconvenient.

All that said, this year I am going to try to substantially reduce my use of plastics — at home, at the office, when I travel, and so on. I’ll make a series of small changes, which I’ll document here on this blog. I’m not going to try to reduce all of my plastic use. For example, I still plan to use disposable diapers (or nappies, as they call them here in South Africa) for my son, at least in the near future. I know that these are terrible for the environment. There are several reasons why I’m continuing with disposable diapers — to give one example, Cape Town where I live is still water scarce so washing nappies is not really a feasible option. But I won’t defend my choices (especially any related to my parenting) here on the blog. Instead, I will document the small changes that I am making to reduce my plastic use. I’m going to select small changes that I can stick with — I don’t want this to be one of those resolutions that fades after two months. I want this resolution to lead to permanent change.

So today I’m starting as mini series called “The Plastic Problem”. I’ll share what I’m doing to reduce my plastic use. If you are doing the same things or have ideas for other things I can do, please leave a comment. Again, my goal is not to do everything all at once — I’m going to tackle the problem bit by bit. I’ll make a series of small changes in my life that do not seem too overwhelming, and I will stick to them. Over time, these small changes should add up and (hopefully!) substantially reduce my plastic use.

In this series, I may also share information, articles, etc. about plastics and why they can be so terrible for the environment. If you know of good articles or scientific papers on this topic, please do share links in a comment below or send me an email.

So… what I am doing for my first “The Plastic Problem” reduction effort? I am going to use resuable produce bags every time I go to the supermarket, rather than using those flimsy plastic bags. I was planning to buy a set of reusable produce bags, but I’m very fortunate that one of my good friends made a set of bags and gave them to me for Christmas. She must have read my What to Buy a Geologist for Christmas: 2018 Edition post!

Here are pictures of the bags, with sweet notes from my friend:

Reusable produce bags… a gift from a friend.

Instructions on how to use the bags… what a fantastic gift!

This should be an easy change. I’ll stash one of these bags in my purse (for unexpected trips to the grocery store) and will put the rest with the reusable cloth bags that we already use for our weekly shopping. I’ve already made use of these bags during two shopping trips this past week!

Do you use reusable produce bags? Any advice on them? How do you make sure that you don’t forget to bring them to the store?