It is estimated that 4 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only 1% of plastic bags are returned for recycling. Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually. That’s about 307 bags per person! All that waste can be eliminated by switching to reusable shopping bags.

More facts about single-use plastic bags can be found at The Center for Biological Diversity.

If plastic bags are a problem, are paper bags the solution?

No. While paper bags break down far faster than plastic, they also take more energy and water to produce, their extra weight requires more energy for transportation, and, of course they are made of trees, which we desperately need to leave standing. (For more on the paper vs. plastic comparison, see this page.

Without a doubt, the best choice is to go with reusable bags. 

Reusable Shopping Bags

It seems that the biggest challenge to using reusable bags is remembering to have them with you when you shop. Here are some tips to make it easier to get in the habit:

  1. Keep bags in your car, so they’re handy even for unexpected grocery stops. If there’s more than one vehicle in your household, make sure to stash a couple bags in each of them.
  2. When you empty your bags after a grocery run, hang them on a hook near the door so you’ll remember to grab them on your way out next time. 
  3. Purchase (or make) a bag that stores in its own attached pouch. These easily tuck in a purse or pocket, or clip onto a key ring. 
  4. Put a sticky note on your steering wheel to remind you to take your bags with you into the market. 
  5. If you find you still forget your bags, carry your items out in your hands and pockets. If they don’t fit, wheel them out in your cart, and put them in your car loose. Making it a hassle might help you remember to make it easier on yourself next time!

But shopping bags are not the only plastic bags we tend to use once and throw away. We should also think about produce bags, trash bags, bags used to package grocery items, mesh bags, sandwich bags and zip-closure storage bags, and newspaper bags, to name a few.  Here are some tips for reducing the number of these bags we throw away, both by using fewer and reusing the ones we can’t avoid.