Monthly Challenge for September

Filed in Blog by on September 27, 2008 33 Comments
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say no to plastic carrier bags, or the turtle gets itOk, this is late – like a month late, but we’re not going to let that stop us.

As it’s arrived way past the estimated due date, we’re going to set an easy, but profound challenge that can really make a difference.

We want you to say no to carrier bags from now on.

This is exactly how our zero waste challenge began. It was reading about the devastating effects of plastic on marine life that changed Mr Green’s life forever.

Every year, supermarkets in the UK give out 17½ billion plastic carrier bags. The amount of petrol used to make these bags is enough to drive a car 2.1 billion miles or nearly 54,000 times round the world; yet only one in every 200 plastic carrier bags is recycled.

Most carrier bags are used only once before being dumped in the landfill where they can take up to 1000 years to break down. Unfortunately many of these escape into the environment where they can get washed out to sea.

Once they start to break down into strands, the plastic gets mistaken for jelly fish by creatures such as turtles. They try to eat the bags which get lodged in their throats or stomachs resulting in a painful death.

An estimated one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics.

In addition, plastic is made from oil, which we believe to be running out, so why waste it on something so transient?

Yes, they’re free in most shops, but you can be assured that you are paying for the privilege through the products you buy. And what of the cost to the environment and our future health?

Getting hold of reusable bags doesn’t have to be expensive. To start with, just reuse your old carrier bags until they fall apart. At least you will have squeezed every last ounce of use out of them. Or you can return them to most supermarkets for recycling.

If you are ok at sewing, then you can make your own Morsbag from scraps of material. They have quite a  following now! Why not start making some for Christmas presents too?

Other options include scouring the charity shops for offerings. You might just hit lucky. I took tow reusable bags to the charity shop the other week for them to sell and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Actually remembering to take your bags into the store is the most difficult part about this challenge, so Onya have the answer.
Onya sell a great range of bags made from parachute material. What I like about these is that they fold down neatly into their own pouch so you never forget to take them with you to the shops. You can attach them to a belt loop, your key ring or bag with no effort.

Don’t beat yourself up. There will be many times when you get to the checkout and realise you’ve forgotten your bags. It’s all part of the learning process. but it won’t be long before grabbing your bags is just like taking your house keys with you. It’s all about creating new habits and they will take a while to get in place.

Keeping the bags in a handy location, such as by the front door, next to your coat or in the car can help. It’s good to attach a new habit to something you already have in place to get faster results.

Another of my favourites, and a sure way to entice kids to reuse bags is with Doy. Doy bags are made by a women’s co-operative in the Philippines from recycled tetrapak juice cartons.

One of our readers, Kris has invested in a Trolley Dolly, which provides you with all the reusable bags you could ever wish for , While Mrs A trots about town with her shopping trolley. You can get a non-PVC shopping trolley from Natural Collection.

Finally, if you want the Rolls Royce of reusable bags, then Sally at Carry-A-Bag, who was one of the sponsors in our September giveaway will make you a shopping bag to your specification from reused materials.

What about you? Do you have a favourite type of reusable bag and What are your tips for remembering to take them with you to the store?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth’s fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (33)

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  1. Hi Mrs Green,

    Giving up plastic bags is easy, just get your 4-5 fabric bags and never look back.

    I got a result from the local Gregg’s bakers, when one of the young gals told me plastic bags were no longer offered to customers.

    My usual purchases there on a Saturday morning are :- 1 granary brown loaf (straight in the bag unpackaged), 2 apple turnovers (paper bag) and 2 apple or fruit slices (paper bag).

    Six months have passed since my binbag challenge and 12.5oz is the total bin waste for that period. 5 years is the new target, up from 4.

  2. Mrs Green says:

    John, you’re right; it’s an easy step and a great first for the zero waste journey.
    What I like about it, is it’s so simple, yet if we all did it, could have a great impact on the landfill / environment.

    Six months and 12.5oz. That is amazing John – really well done you. You are now officially one of my heroes 😀

  3. Mrs Green,the beauty of the challenge is seeing others take part as well. Apart from the great efforts of the original 4 of us, it is great the see other bloggers joining in. Maisie and justGai are excellent additions and following in their own fashion. We can only improve with the new ideas emerging.

    Thanks for the accolade but there is a serious message behind my effort which is that it is down to us to make the necessary changes since no-one else will.

    The reply yesterday to Poppy’s McVitie’s was a salutary lesson about our opposition. They are absolutely determined to maintain the status quo via incineration.

    The way to overcome such opponents is to know them the better to defeat their wasteful attitudes.

  4. Stef says:

    Morsbags are SOO much fun to make. My friends and I made 160+ this summer and gave them out.

    My only problem is that I never think about taking them when I’m out. Oh, so there are two problems: Cashiers look at me like I’m an idiot when I whip out my own bag – especially when it’s not one that I bought from them.

    The “store” on my campus just went plastic bag free! Hooray!

  5. Kris says:

    I’ve just come back from holiday where the Trolley Dolly proved really useful. We took two suitcases and everything else wended it’s way in the TD bags – I thought we really brightened up the area this morning going up to the car loaded with all the vibrant colours!

    I also used one as my receptacle for recyclables – it’s very full (we were bad – two cardboard pizza boxes!) but was much bigger than the amount of waste we put into the bin (approx 4 cereal bowls worth – mostly tea bags and tissues, it seemed more practical to put things to one side in the day rather than take them out to the dustbin, and I didn’t want to go to the lengths of lining and using the kitchen bin provided.) and has come home to go to the appropriate places. You may also be pleased to hear that I cleverly forgot to take any cottonwool cushions in my washbag so was splashing my toner on in the ‘aftershave method’.

    I needed to go shopping today as we didn’t come back to much provision-wise, and because we are now desperate to get back to fruit and vegetables (why is it that when you rely on eating out during a holiday you are lucky to see a bit of salad garnish or the odd spoonful of peas – definitely not the three or four good portions of veg I serve!) I wanted the trip to be quick and easy so took two large jute bags and it was easy indeed.

    I also indulged myself on holiday (apart from the pizza!) with another jute bag (I am becoming a carrier-bag-alternative afficionado in the way that some girls are about shoes or name-brand handbags!) since it is a lovely colour and advertises somewhere I like to go – the sweet shop in Boscastle 🙂 And it’ll make me happy wandering around carrying it.

    At the Eden Project I was able to examine an Onya bag for the first time – brilliant, but not something I needed since the TD bags are very similar albeit not in a pouch or belt clippable, but if you’ve got a pocket, handbag or car with you you’re most of the way there anyhow.

    I’m feeling proud to be retrospectively successful for the September challenge as I’ve not had one carrier bag from a shop. I did accept two in reuse from my MIL – one to be passed on to her friend in this area with some goods he is reusing, and the other which we used for laundry. That one will do a bit of time on the same service in my gym bag and then go to be recycled probably.

    Anyway – enough waffle – you can tell I’m back 🙂

  6. Stef, do not be embarrassed using these bags. I always explain to cashiers why I no longer use plastic bags. They will respect your viewpoint. If others use plastic bags I make no negative comments but, if I speak at all I just say any change is welcome, however small.

    I always take a bag as a matter of routine. It has been months since I used a plastic bag in a shop, a habit I do not miss!

  7. Melissa says:

    Hi Mrs. Green and in particular Stef,
    I have to say, I felt a bit odd the first few times I took my bags too – especially when they were labeled with a competitor’s logo. I got over it fast, and scarcely give it a second thought now. In fact, since I walk to the store I can’t imagine having to cart home groceries in a plastic bag that falls apart halfway. I use them for everything – library book bag, farmer’s market veggie bag, swimming pool towel bag and on and on.
    One small step… 😀
    Cheers!

  8. just Gai says:

    A couple of Morsebaggers had a stall at our Best of Bedminster Show today. They told me how they wait until they have made a decent number of them, before hitting the high street and offering them to shoppers free of charge in exchange for their own plastic ones. Pure genius! I love the idea of groups of people getting together to make them. Doing things together is so much easier and builds up communities.

    I’ve been refusing plastic bags for some time now. The hardest bit is remembering to carry a reuseable bag around with me but otherwise I haven’t encountered any problems.

    While in Sainsburys today I noticed that they have stopped providing free plastic carriers, though they are still available if specifically requested.

  9. Melissa, Glad to see you discard the plastic bag. Logos can be hidden by inverting the bag. They would have to pay me before I would display it.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Stef, that’s great that you and your friends made so many Morsbags. You WILL get over the ‘feeling silly’ when you take your own bags. Now I don’t think anything of it and as our friend Just Gai found out this week – she took her own reusable containers to the butchers after plucking up the courage to do so and she is now INSPIRING others to do the same.

    So go out there and be a pioneer and feel proud of it! Like Melissa says, it soon becomes a new habit and one you don’t even think of **waves at Melissa**

    Hey Kris – welcome home 😀 It sounds like you had a wonderful holiday and a zero waste one to boot. Well done and great to have you back sharing your adventures with us. Congrats on completing the challenge even though you didn’t know what it was LOL!

    Just Gai, I would love to do something like you spoke of. I have this dream of providing a reusable bag for everyone who lives in our village one day. I’m no good at sewing though, so would need a team of volunteers plus someone to teach me!

  11. Kris says:

    It’s funny how things come around too. I remember when I was a teenager my Mum found some flourescent material at a fabric shop and sewed herself a few bags which were like a modern forerunner to the easily scrunch and stowable ones a lot of us are using now. She had no qualms about bringing out her own bags at the supermarket and still does so, though I don’t know what happened to the flourescent ones. I remember with shame though that I thought they were the most embarrassing thing ever – I think I bought her one of those laminated shopppers instead.

    I’m not a confident seamstress either – I tend to fight with sewing machines and am very slow at hand sewing. The team of volunteers sounds good though – I’d join 🙂

  12. I was writing about bags last week for my shopping chapter and it got me thinking back to the very beginning of my zero waste challenge, when I used to have more carrier bags than you could shake a stick at.

    It seems one of the simplest things to do, but remembering to take reusable carrier bags can for many be one of the hardest habits to break. That’s how it was for me and for a good while I would end up at the checkout bagless and with a huge guilt complex so would just buy some more bags-for-life.

    However, it all worked out in the end and was probably the move I needed. I now have so many, they’re dotted around in the car, in the kitchen, by the front door and by my bike. And I think that’s the key. I even have some gorgeous fold up fabric ones that hang out in my handbag. And of course on Market Day, there’s the fantastic trolley bag which always cheers me up.

    Once you’re conscious about plastic bags, you can start to move onto other things, so it does act as a practice run.

    I always get cheered when shop assistants ask if I want a bag rather than going into automatic pilot and handing me one. And I ALWAYS thank them for having the consideration to ask first. It brings a smile to them as well as a reminder to people in the queue behind.

    However, with that said. I did get caught out in the week. My bags were full, I had no hands left to juggle and I spotted a 20p carpet sample that would make a great doormat. Even rolling it under my arm would have been a struggle, so out came a posh carrier bag to help me on my way, which was probably worth more than the piece of carpet. But that bag will be reused and reused and reused, which is fine for me. ;-D

  13. sally says:

    I always check my hand bag before leaving home to ensure i have a few fabric bags handy, i keep a large trolley bag in my car and if i am honest find shop assistants thank me when i say i do not need a bag as i have my own. I have influenced my mum too who now always has a bag on her, my next challenge is hubby, who frequently forgets to take a bag with him so i must get around to buying an onya bag for his keyring-no excuses then.

  14. Sally, I always check my handbag too, not. One annoying thing was at ASDA today when I started my 1 Jar 1 Lid effort, the check-out woman ripped off about 5 plastic bags before I interrupted her, pointing to my red inverted M&S Christmas bag. She was a character however and we had a good a laugh.

  15. Out here in central US, fashion is of small concern, yet social mores are built slowly over years. Being an outsider gives me an excuse for setting the trend. Not exactly a new trend, what did people use –pre-plastic? pre-paper?

    I seem to be the only customer at the grocery store who uses her bags, these were offered for free in the spring 2008, hundreds were given away, hundreds more were sold since, where did the bags go? In the dark closets? In the garage?

    The clerks look at us, and ask if we want our items to be put into the free stand-up bags..well, yes, of course! then a customer will say, oh, i forgot mine…takes a while to build a good habit.

  16. Di Hickman says:

    I take my own fabric bags everywhere. One tip is as soon as you are done with your grocery shop take the bags back out to the car. If you have a handbag, scrunch/fold a bag up and put it in there too. Small totes take up hardly any room.
    I make my totes from old pillowcases. Minimal sewing (good for me as a beginner). And I attended tradeshows the past couple of years where they give out canvas totes so I already had a collection of bags.
    Sometimes the cashiers look at me funny but I figure that’s nothing new 😉

  17. Di Hickman says:

    forgot to add if you want a little info on the tote from a pillowcase see the blog post: http://pathtogreendom.blogspot.com/2008/07/wardrobe-refashion-tote-bag.html

    thanks!

  18. Mr Green says:

    Thanks Di for your comment. There is nothing better than reusing old materials to make something new and useful. We were stuck one day without a bag and I took my sweater off, tied the arms and waist together and used it as a bag. It worked very well as an emergency measure.

  19. Great challenge. It seems so basic, and yet not everyone is doing it yet! Checked out the trolley dolly- awesome. I must say that the foldable parachute type bag is my favorite because it fits in my jacket pocket.

  20. Mrs Green says:

    Kris, I remember thinking my Mum was very old fashioned with her shopping baskets too. And now I really want one of those traditional looking wicker ones because they are great for carrying loose fruit and veg without damaging them!

    Mrs A; you’re right; the challenge is remembering them. And it’s great that you share that even after 9 months, you can STILL forget! We forgot ours the other day and once again, carried everything out in our arms. We figure the discomfort helps to remind us next time!

    Sally, you sound well organised and it’s great you are spreading the word with others. I hope your hubby enjoys his onya bag. You can get him a boyish rucksack style, perhaps.

    Glad you check your handbag before leaving the house, John. I feel that the poor checkout people have as much to learn as we do about new habits. It must be terribly hard to remember not to automatically rip them off and start packing. But Sainsburys and the CO-OP now supposedly have this policy in place, so, to quote a song ‘the times they are a changing.’

    Nadine, I like hearing how different this issue is in different parts of the world. A pioneer you are though, of the baggiest proportions. As you say, it’s those pesky habits that need putting into place. We’ll just keep banging on about it on this site until my voice is ringing in everyone’s ears perhaps 😀

    Hello Di! Great tips there; if we put them back straight after use there should be no problem remembering; this is the theory anyway! Thanks for the link to your site; the pillowcase bags look fab.

    Hey Jen; good to see you and your bin looking so clean. I like the fold up ones too, but the trolley dollys look fun. I like the simplicity of this challenge. It was thing that kick started our own zero waste lifestyle and globally has the capacity for such a big change……..

  21. Lori S says:

    Hi Mrs. Green. How exciting to see so many people here using their own bags. I keep quite a few in the back seat of the car. When I forget to take them into the store, I just explain that my bags are in the car, & the clerk just places all of my items loose in the shopping cart. I explain to him or her that I am against plastic bags. I carry the receipt in my hand so they can check me at the door to make sure I really paid, since it looks odd not to have any bags at all. I then just bag them at my car. I don’t mind looking odd or silly, because it’s for a good cause, & I know it makes people stop & think.

  22. maisie says:

    I do this with my shopping as well I have a few plastic storage boxes in the boot of the car and take the trolley of goods out to the car and then pack into the boxes.

    I have also become a collecter of the reusable bag especially good strong jute ones which can be used for all sorts of things not just shopping.

  23. Kris says:

    Di’s pillowcase bag is lovely – especially the cross stitch strengthening detail.

    Is it wrong that I’m now eyeing my best bedlinen and thinking the colour would make a fab bag…

  24. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Lori; welcome! We too have been known to take the trolley back to the car and then bag up when we’re in the car park. Sometimes that is the better option because you don’t feel so rushed! The sales clerks can be superfast in some shops so I can’t keep up with the packing at the other end……

    Funny how we like different things, Maisie. I’ve never got on well with the jute bags I have had – I find them too scratchy and bulky to carry around with me, but I know lots of people like them. They are certainly robust and built to last!

    Kris; if I find a lost-looking husband on the site with nowhere to lay his head at night, I’ll know what you’ve been up to 😀

  25. Kris says:

    He’s usually so tired at the end of the day that I might just get away with it 😉

    I’ve fallen very smoothly into preplanning with bags and they nearly all live in the hall and so are there ready to use. I carry a cloth book bag most days as it’s so easy to tuck under my arm and light if I don’t fill it up too much (though the coffee cup, the water bottle, the spare bag, the book for the bus and the other odd bits can add up!), but when going to the supermarket I usually grab one or both big jute bags and maybe a few others like the TD ones tucked in it in case. The car has got a huge foil-lined chiller bag in it all the time, plus collapsible crate and basket (great for Lidl!) and various carriers tucked back in after a trip to the recycling banks. And even my handbag has got a bag for life and a small plastic carrier ready for use.

    I am a bit of an organised terror (obviously!) because I either pick a till with a customer in front so I have time to unpack, or politely ask the cashier not to start scanning through till I am ready, so at least I’ve got a reasonable chance of keeping up with the packing then. And eventually Tesco might get used to me and stop inviting me to go over to empty tills…

  26. Mrs Green says:

    Wowee – you could write a book on ’10 steps to organise your reusable bags’ (or similar). You have a system there which puts mine to shame! I have the theories in place, but not always the bags and boxes yet.

  27. Kris says:

    Yup – super organised and quite smug about my bags today – until I got to the supermarket and remembered I’d planned things like salmon from the fish counter using my own tub which I’d forgotten to bring.

    I did get chatting with the lady on the till though – prompted by my lurid green net bag containing mushrooms, she said she hadn’t noticed anyone else using one of those, then twigged I’d brought it along specially, rather than them being a Tesco thing. She also told me her son has moved in with her, decluttered the entire place, converted the garage into a recycling nerve centre and generally lives by ‘if it moves, recycle it’. Sounds a lovely boy 😉

    (And in Sainsburys the bag stands at the tills just have bag for lifeses on them, and prominent notices explain that you won’t be offered free bags automatically. It’s a step, but I still think it’s a bit easy, with some bags still in view, and the lady in front of me had obviously asked for bags, and two extra ones were lying ready for me to completely ignore!)

  28. Di Hickman says:

    Thanks for the comments on the pillowcase bag, seriously if I can make it with my limited sewing machine skills then anyone can! lol!
    As a brit living in america I have to say they are worse over here! I remember in England at sainsburys they did the penny back scheme (do they still do that?), well they just started doing a similar thing here and I’ve been here 8 years! Unfortunately not in my area. What they do at the store I shop at is if you use your own bags you get an entry to a prize drawing for a pack of groceries.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    Ooops on the box Kris. We’ve done that on occasions too. It tends to happen if we leave the house in a rush or, of course, if you want to make a spontaneous purchase. That woman’s son sounds gorgeous!
    Sainsburys are making tentative steps, but I feel all these shops are not hiding them completely because they’re too worried about the implications of turning customers off. To hell with the environment, let’s keep the people happy 🙁

    Di, well you have definitely inspired me with your lovely bags. I’m not aware of a penny back scheme in Sainsburys, but I think you get points on your loyalty card. The prize draw idea is innovative – does it seem popular?

  30. Di Hickman says:

    Well like I said it’s been a while, I haven’t lived in England since 2000, probably a lot has changed!

    The prize draw seems fairly popular, definitely see more people using their own bags because of it. I wish the major supermarkets would do something too. Lots of cities here have banned or are in the process of banning plastic bags. Maybe one day…

  31. Kris says:

    I remember the penny back deal in Sainsburys, since I was reusing bags anyway it was a nice bonus rather than incentive for me. It just seemed to peter out though.

    Sometime later Tesco started giving a point per bag reused, and some time after that Sainsburys did the same.

    I definitely agree with Mrs G about Sainsburys not quite trying hard enough yet. I got offered a carrier today by the assistant which I would say is at least two steps downwards! Tesco on the other hand seem to be doing a lot better at the moment with putting on extra points for bags without the trip to customer services.

  32. Check this out – no pun intended, but Sainsbury’s have just introduced a text reminder service for their customers, so that they can remember their bags before they go off shopping.
    Novel 😀

  33. Mrs Green says:

    Di, it’s years since I visited Sainsbury’s too. I get our shopping from there, but have it delivered; so I could be well out of date! It sounds like things are changing for the better where you are – although you’re like me; you want to see action NOW!

    Thanks for the updates Kris. One of my friends is a section manager at Tescos; I’ll have to pick her brains when I next see her.

    Mrs A – I went and took a look after seeing your comment yesterday. it’s a cute service to be offering and now there is no excuse to visit without your bags 🙂

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