Earth Day in the Bag – When Reusable Bags Aren’t So Green

| April 18, 2012 | 0 Comments

Recently my son’s Kindergarten teacher asked parents if we had any plastic grocery bags we could bring to the class. Art projects were having a hard time surviving the trip from the classroom to the car. A recent soggy, wind-blown,  tissue-paper flower garden project came to mind as he spoke.

“And my wife and I only use cloth bags now,” he explained. “So now I NEVER have any plastic bags.”

I wanted so badly to say “Oh I know…we’re the same” but that would have been purely for show and a white lie I would bet every other parent in that classroom would pounce on.

“I probably  have a few kicking around,” I admitted.  “I’ve been known to occasionally forget my cloth bags when I head to the grocery store so I’ll have a look.”

Luckily his request was just the motivation I needed to clean out and organize my current grocery bag collection spread out everywhere in my life – my car, the hall closet, the mud room and, of course, the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

As I gathered them all  together I made a discouraging discovery having little to do with plastic.  My household had entirely too  many bags, cloth or otherwise, taking up far too much space in various corners of the house.  After going through every room, drawer and cupboard the pile of bags accumulated by me and mine was pretty substantial.

I only found a handful of plastic bags compared to the ton of cloth  bags but that didn’t stop me from feeling bad about the sheer volume of canvas and cotton taking up space in my closets.   Plastic bags take roughly a thousand years to biodegrade but what about reusable bags?  Where and when do they end up?  Comes down to deciding which cloth bag I like best, owning at the very most a half dozen of them, and getting rid of the rest.

Which brings me back to my original problem.  What to do with the cloth bags I’ve accumulated and now do not need? A few ideas come to mind.

1. Go through the kids’ closets and drawers…and yours too….and fill those cloth bags to the brim with outgrown and out dated  clothing.  Save the black garbage bags for garbage and donate the clothes and the cloth bags they’re packed  in to your local Sally-ann.  My guess is they will appreciate the bags for their own checkout counter.

2. Replace gift bags with cloth bags.  Gift bags are pretty and colourful but I can only imagine how their production and use impacts Mother Earth.  Wrap your next gift in a clean cloth bag, attach some funky ribbon and a homemade card then sit back and enjoy some good earthly karma heading your way.

3. Get creative.  My big kid’s high school is having Earth Colours Day this Friday, prizes for kids dressed up in at least 3 earth colours; brown, blue,green and/or white. Extra prizes will be awarded for wearing something ‘re-purposed’ .  If only I could sew….I could cover my kid’s entire 6’2 frame with cloth bags and still have enough left over to fashion up a hat of some kind. Grad 2012 and all that:)

4. Ask a teacher and see if cloth bags could be utilized for art projects, school camping and/or field trips or just within the classrooms themselves. I donated a cloth bag filled with more cloth bags, and the few plastic bags I found also, to my son’s Kindergarten class and his teacher seemed more than happy to have them in the classroom cupboard.

5. Treat yourself for Earth Day.  Cloth bags are trendy, cool, and super functional.  Check out Me & You cloth bags at Their bags are gorgeous and made from canvas with Vegan leather handles and bottoms.  They have an especially funky Darling Bucket Bag designed after canvas bucket bags used in the 1920s for carrying water. Probably make a great bag for larger stand-up grocery items.

And finally….get the skinny on what type of cloth bag your favourite stores are using. Not all cloth bags are alike and not all cloth bags are pure cloth.  Many reuseable bags are a poly-blend, not technically plastic, but still not the best in terms of breaking down effectively into the Earth.

Living trees must be brought down to make paper and non-renewable petroleum must be used to create plastic.  So the answer to the person bagging my groceries, especially on Earth Day, should be ‘Neither thanks….brought my own. ”

I’ll do my best anyway.  Happy  Earth Day.

Photo Courtesy of FLICKR Creative Commons member Amber Strocel

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Category: The Green Home, THINK GREEN

About the Author ()

Sue Urie lives in North Qualicum Beach with her husband, three kids, three goats, two cats and one ridiculously large dog. Her work has been published in various magazines, websites and anthologies.

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