Plastic Bags: How to Do Better When They Aren’t Taxed or Banned


Philadelphia has tried to both ban and tax plastic bags in the past, only to be beaten by the plastic bag industry. So in cities like mine, we are still automatically handed plastic bags at checkout counters.

Why are plastic bags so bad?

Non-biodegradable bags are responsible for a tremendous amount of litter, the degradation of soil, wasting non-renewable petroleum, and causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of animals each year.

And recycling them is not the answer.

In my book, I speak with Richard Gertman, former vice president of the National Recycling Coalition, who explains why putting plastic bags into recycling bins causes much more damage than good by damaging the recycling machinery.

Here is an interactive map that shows the status of plastic bag legislation in cities and towns throughout the world. The good news is that the green dots are proliferating.

So what can we do to help this mess if we can’t get legislation passed in our area?

  1. Just stop taking the damn bags. Even if you forgot your reusable tote, think hard before taking those plastic bags at checkout. Can you fit the items in your purse? In your pockets? In your stroller? We all get caught really needing a bag once in a while, but don’t just automatically accept one for a toothbrush and a pack of gum.
  2. Proactively tell the cashier, “No bag please!” Because they probably will just automatically give you one and it would be great of they would actually ask and cause people some pause. If you are feeling feisty, you can even say something like, “No bag please – I don’t have much here and those bags are so wasteful.”
  3. So you have plastic bags. And you know they can not go in the recycling. Do you have a dog? Then why are you buying “special” bags to pick up its poop? Don’t have a dog? I bet your neighbors do. And they will be happy to use these bags so they don’t have to buy special bags to pick up poop.
  4. Still have plastic bags? There are some really cool ways to repurpose them. There is a way to turn them into beads to make fantastic jewelry (I have a recycled plastic bead necklace which I bought and get compliments on all the time). Here is a tutorial. And here is a Pinterest board of plastic bag crafts ranging from knit bags to baby bibs to jump ropes. (Mine would likely turn out tragic so it’s a good thing I have a dog to pick up after.) A friend of mine crochets them as “plarn”  to make sleeping mats for homeless people through The Sunday Love Project! Talk about a do-gooder! 😉

Continue to push for plastic bag bans or taxes in your area. And in the meantime, do whatever you can to use less and be creative with the ones that are thrust upon you!

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