Mrs Green turns into a bag lady

Filed in Blog by on December 8, 2009 23 Comments
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Aunty Rubbish and Mrs Green promoting reusable bags during zero waste week

Aunty Rubbish and Mrs Green promoting reusable bags during zero waste week

One of the most frequent problems we encountered when we first began our zero waste journey was forgetting our reusable shopping bags.

We would get to the checkout and realise our fate.

However, we made a pact 18 months ago which we are proud to say we have adhered to completely. There have been many a moment when we have swayed from our principles, loaded up the landfill and not made the best choices, but we have never taken a new plastic disposable carrier bag from the checkout since the day we began our challenge.

It hasn’t been without it problems, I can tell you. One day a chicken ended up costing us about Β£12 because we forgot our box. On another occasion, Mr Green had to strip off at the checkout in order to carry his wares home.

This week I had an email from Barbara, encouraging me to remind you lot to remember your own reusable shopping bags when out Christmas shopping this year! But I feel I probably don’t need to do that because you’re all grade A students, right?

Barbara is a morsbagger, and from my own dabble in the world of sewing and crafts recently, I know just how addictive this can get!

If you’ve never heard of a morsbag, basically it’s a home made fabric bag fashioned from recycled materials. Some wonderful people, Barbara is one of them, make them up and give them away FREE to people to encourage them to use them instead of plastic disposable carrier bags.

Barbara asked me “Have you got any brill ideas of how to get people to use the “bag for life” type bags they are becoming accustomed to use for grocery shopping when they go Christmas shopping? Last December we were giving out bags in our local town and over and over again people refused one saying “Oh it’s fine thanks, I’ve got loads at home”. My question to them “SO WHY AREN’T YOU USING THEM NOW!!!”

It’s a great point, isn’t it? I know from my own perspective; it took a long time to get into the habit of remembering bags; so I wonder how we make it easier for people to remember (Apart from banning the disposable plastic carrier bag of course!).

Barbara has been contacting her local press and radio programmes with environmental / consumer content that she thinks would be able to react fairly quickly. She has also made some posters and car stickers based on the ‘”A dog is for life” message and is wondering how to get them out to the masses.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about regarding the disposable plastic carrier bag, you can read some information about the 17 1/2 billion bags that are given out every year to shoppers, along with some of the damaging effects on the environment and to marine life with our “Reduce plastic carrier bags” page.
We also have a short You Tube video on how to remember your reusable shopping bags

However, it seems the supermarkets want to help us with this issue. Over the past few months, the times have definitely been a changin’.

I first noticed this metamorphosis at Waitrose when on holiday in 2008 …

A few weeks later, we spotted the same goings on at Morrisons where we never shopped, but called in to buy petrol:

Today, Morrisons want you to use your own reusable shopping bag

Today, Morrisons want you to use your own reusable shopping bag

A few months on and we called into Asda; I’d never been there before and we spied this:

Horrah for Asda; a huge reminder sign as you grab your trolley

Horrah for Asda; a huge reminder sign as you grab your trolley

More recently, with the launch of our new local “eco friendly” Sainsbury store; they are really pushing the ‘remember your bag’ issue with gusto. These signs were next to every fourth parking bay; which is excellent; you don’t need to be at the door of the store before you get the reminder:

Sainsburys - a shining example of helping us remember our reusable bags

Sainsburys - a shining example of helping us remember our reusable bags

In addition, Sainsbury have set up a free text service to remind you to take your reusable bags with you! You text them the day and time you’d like your weekly text reminder (e.g. Friday 10am or Saturday 3pm) and you’ll then receive one text message per week at that time.

We’ve also noticed a subtle change in packaging; more retailers are giving packaging details along with information on whether or not it can be recycled. And of course, many brands and retailers and gradually reducing the amount of packaging they use.

So the zero waste lifestyle is gathering momentum and in a short 18 months, we’re seeing changes ‘out there’ in the mainstream.

And of course, I have to take this opportunity to give a plug for our own zero waste reusable bags. If you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to buy a bag from our shop. It will last you years, is made from recycled rice sacks so is good for the environment and they’re very swish too; a stunning fashion item no less!

Tell me what changes you’ve noticed recently – are more customers using their own bags? Are stores encouraging you to use your own bags and containers? Are manufacturers improving their packaging? Share the latest gossip with us! And if you have any great ideas to help Barbara ‘get the message out there’ then please leave them in the comments below.


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 (23)

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  1. Ben says:

    I’ve been using reusable lidl bags for years now, in fact long before I really thought about waste because I was unhappy with the quality of the free bags from most stores. They’re designed to get your shopping out the trolley in to the car and out your car in to the kitchen, not to walk home or go on the bus with. Anything remotely heavy and/or pointy will escape very quickly.

    It used to be quite strange to most people that I reused bags, people would tell me that if the bags are free I might as well use them. It’s seen as quite normal now though, and I do see more and more people with reusable bags.

  2. Poppy says:

    Like yourself Mrs G, I haven’t used a carrier bag since setting out on zero waste, despite being offered on numerous occasions. I also (on a day I had too much time on my hands!!), complained to Customer Services at one store, that there were too many bags freely available, even though they claimed at one stage, that bags were only available on request.

    And yes, it makes me wince to see peoples trolleys piled high with carrier bags of shopping.

  3. Wow, you guys are way ahead of us. Only the locally run food co-op has a sign like that – hasn’t really hit the major chains yet. Actually, I think the policy of the shop near my house is “double bag it or bust”. So sad.

  4. Layla says:

    Great to hear about these signs!!

    I wish something like that could be available locally too!! (Any chance to know what these signs are made of & if they are recyclable? ;))

    One is just a poster, I see – something like this could totally be doable in (front of) any shop!
    (Some might even let you post something like that if you wanted?)

  5. Ben says:

    Those signs are very cool and I have never seen that. Also, I like the idea of the texts. My problem is not with the weekly shopping trips (Ashley never forgets them), but more the stop in for eggs and cream trips.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @Ben: Hi Ben, we’re definitely seeing more people with their own bags. I think, like you, they realise that the cheap ones often release a heavy bottle of wine, and we don’t want that spilling across the pavement πŸ˜‰

    @Poppy: We’ve seen that too Poppy – stores that say they don’t leave free bags visible where actually they do. I guess the cashiers get fed up of having to keep reach under the counter to get that. I can understand that, being an ex cashier myself, but I think the fact they are not visible helps more customers to remember / be aware there is an alternative.

    @Jen Clean Bin: Oh my – Double bag it or bust – that would drive me crazy …

    @Layla: Why not design a poster and ask to put it up locally, Layla? It can’t do any harm to ask …

    @Ben: I hear you on that; it’s the trips when you pop out to stock up that you realise you don’t have your bag. Fortunately, there isn’t always too much to carry on such trips; so arms and hands come in handy πŸ˜€

  7. It’s been 22 months and 13 days since I made my last confession πŸ™‚ Seriously, it’s really amazing how things have changed both for me personally and at a national level. I remember back in January 08 just before I did my ZWW I was absolutely useless at remembering bags. When I went off to do my first ZW shop that month, I was cockahoop that I’d remembered them, but even in the 7 week run-up to St Ed’s ZWW I still picked up loads on the way. However since that week, I’ve become adept at juggling, stuffing things deep into my pockets and my balancing skills are now extremely refined. I did have that rainy-day mishap when amidst torrential rain, I’d left my backpack in the car when I went in to buy a book for a chistening present, which would have got drenched if I’d refused the recycled carrier. Not bad compared to how things used to be.

    i’m off into town in a mo, and I know that as I look around most people will be carrying some kind of reusable bag, which is brilliant. The next thing to work on is enouraging people to refusing freebies that just get stuffed in cupboards before they end up in the bin πŸ™‚

  8. Sarah says:

    My local (Enormous) Tesco has no plastic carrier bags visible and you have to ask for them. However, at every other checkout there is a stand with either cloth bags or those extra strong reusable “Bags for life” things. I’ve watched the checkout supervisor types wandering up and down and putting plastic carriers back under the tills! The cashiers ask “How many of your own bags have you used?” rather than “Would you like a bag?” and a couple of weeks ago I gave some of my huge cloth bag collection to a couple who had forgotten theirs.

    The place they fall down is the fruit and veg – only those flimsy little clear bags for putting things in. I often don’t bother.

  9. Poppy says:


    I often put loose fruit and veg onto the conveyor and I can almost hear the cashier groan “another one of those darned greenies!” Grapes are tricky!!

  10. Hazel says:

    I finally got round to making some mesh bags (out of net curtainy type fabris that I found in a remnant bin in a fabric shop) with very simple narrow ribbon drawstrings and I have to say DH disappeared in embarrassment when I put them on the conveyor belt, but the only comments have been positive. I put most fruit and veg on ‘naked’, but sometimes you do need a bag!

    DH is hopeless at remembering bags, and although he does refuse a second bag or those silly little bags in shops like Boots or WHS (I so want to ask people why they can’t put a lipstick in their handbag or pocket) he will take a bag if I’m not there to, um….remind him not to! I do counter this as far as possible by keeping bags in both cars (boot and glove compartment) and I carry 2 rolled up cotton bags and an Onya Back that my mum bought me in my handbag.
    The cotton bags are great. One came from People Tree, and it’s so simple I’ve copied it several times and given it as presents. It’s only a basic ractangle with handles and ties sewn to the top so you can tie it up when you’ve rolled it up.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Almost Mrs Average: It’s an amazing journey, Mrs A – well done on everything you have achieved, It’s nearly 2 years for you know – that’s awesome. HOpe the shopping trip was good!

    @Sarah: @Poppy: Sounds like your local Tesco are doing a lot to reduce the number of disposable plastic bags they dish out, Sarah.
    I put all my fruit and veg loose on the checkout too – it causes some looks at times LOL! and I’ve had cashiers trying to pack my loose stuff up in bags for me – they can be quite insistent that I can’t possibly manage to get some loose carrots and apples home….

    @Hazel: What a brilliant idea for the net curtains, Hazel! Onya sell a similar thing called the Onya weigh; but I love your creative reuse! It sounds like you have got your bags well organised and have found some favourites.

  12. Jane says:

    I’ve been announcing that “I’ve got a bag” for years now and it has been an interesting journey. I remember commenting once several years ago to a couple on how nice it was to see someone else with their own bags on a day when I was feeling depressed at the number of trolleys I’d seen piled high to the gunwhales with single use carriers but now so many people are making an effort. Not necessarily totally successful – it is a step by step process – to reduce and change habits but a very satisfying challenge and journey.

    Best of all I just love shop assistants who don’t just pull open a bag before you reach the counter and shove your shopping in it before you can say hello – and ASK if you want one.

    I hate small supermarkets (from big chains) who pile the counter so high with single use carriers that I can’t put my reusable shopper down. If they insist on still having them why can’t they re-fill their stocks several times during the day and why can’t they either replace them with Bags for Life or at least have Bags for Life and other alternatives VISIBLY for sale at the till.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Jane, there definitely is a change, isn’t there? Sure there are the people who take a disposable carrier bag for one loaf of bread, but there are also many who have reusable bags over their arms or hanging off their trolley at the checkout. Do you know, in my previous ‘zero waste’ life, I used to grab handfuls of carrier bags at the checkout – I’d take them home and use them as bin liners. It makes me shudder to think of that now.
    I’m wondering if you might find time to have a word with the manager of the small supermarkets who leave lots of carrier bags at the packing area? They might just give you a favourable response and change their policy πŸ˜‰

  14. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green:

    I have asked for the Manager and asked why they can’t have the Bags for Life VISIBLY for sale at the till. They used to do this BEFORE there was so much fuss about reducing the number of carrier bags they give out.

    I found that the Managers changed regularly, and got a variety of excuses including there not being enough room as they were a small shop and ‘convenience’ shops ie the small ones compared to the larger ones in the same chain not having to reduce their use of the bags. The till areas initially were designed with space to put a bag down but now are not with the great wadge of bags hanging there.

    I just think they like to see their brightly coloured bags being walked up the road. In my opinion their reusable bags are far better advertising and their Bags for Life would be bought by many who had forgotten a bag if they saw them for sale. (They keep them out of sight in a drawer!)

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Hi Jane, interesting that the convenience stores don’t have the same targets for reducing disposable carrier bag usage; I’ll ask in our local store too to see what their policy is. Thanks for the heads up on this πŸ™‚

  16. Barbara says:

    Hi Mrs Green, thanks for giving morsbags a lovely mention. I’ve been reading all the comments you’ve had on this topic. I found the “unplanned pop into the corner shop” type of restock the most difficult to deal with. Now i usually have a morsbag scrunched into a pocket or handbag. I found that on supermarket trips it was easier to remember my own bags – once you’ve been back to the car for your bags once or twice you start to remember to get them out before you lock up.
    More power to your zero waste initiative – I’m working on it, but still produce far too much (sorry ) πŸ™

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Barbara: Hi Barbara, great to see you and you’re welcome. I agree that keeping a scrunched up bag in your bag or pocket is a great idea and thanks for the comment – it’s all about taking baby steps. 18 months ago I put out 2 bins per week!

  18. Nick says:

    Hi Mrs Green
    My wife has been into the recycling habit for many years now and never goes shopping without her collection of re-usable bags,we now have three compost heaps in the garden ( which we built ourselves ! )where all our compostable waste goes.I know there are just two of us , but our weekly waste collection normally consists of half a bin liner , it’s a shame some of our beighbours don’t feel the same , when you see what and how much they are throwing out. keep up th good work , and love to you all. X

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Nick: Hello nick; welcome to the site πŸ™‚ Well we could certainly use more Rosemary’s in the world, caring about their actions πŸ˜‰ FUnny how it’s second nature for some and a real struggle for others. Half a bin liner for two of you a week is wonderful – just imagine if every household did that πŸ˜‰

  20. Jen says:

    I’ve come up with all sorts of ways to remember to bring my reusable bags but I find you also have to beat the cashiers to the punch and throw your bags at them sometimes before they automatically start bagging your items in the dreaded plastic!!! Last weekend I made the cashier and bagger un-bag everything they threw into plastic sacks to rush me out of the store and rebag in my own bags while my husband just stood and watched and rolled his eyes. The supermarket checkers were two young guys who were just trying to do their jobs and were probably thinking about what they were going to do later that night but I hope they remember the next time they see me coming to look for the reusable bags! I’m considering making a suggestion to the supermarket to retrain their checker to ask or look for a customer’s reusable bags before they start auto-bagging. I’ve also started keeping the bags right in the front part so I remember to hand them over first to the cashier before the food goes on the belt.

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Jen: Hi Jen – your comment made me laugh about making the bagger un-bag everything! I think auto bagging should be stopped; I find cashiers start bagging things up and I have to take it all out again. Good idea to hand them to the cashier first; I’ll have to do that in stores where the staff are eager to help!

  22. Linda Claudine. says:

    I have my straw baskets and my canvass bags and my foldups and my insulated bags. I put everything in them as I shop and take one bag’s stuff out at a time and put on their counter/conveyor/whatever and throw the bag down at the bagger. They know me by sight now. And though I usually have to do a bit of reshuffling, the cashiers are really good about instructing the baggers.

  23. Mrs Green says:

    @Linda Claudine.: Hi Linda, thanks for taking time to leave a comment. We find that some cashiers know us now and it makes such a difference. Sounds like you have a great system in place that works for you – thanks for sharing!

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