Like it or not, the New York State ban on single use plastic bags is now a reality.
For some, the ban is good news, a long-awaited step to promote a greener and more sustainable world. For others, the restriction is the stuff nightmares are made of, creating headaches at the supermarket and at home where those once free bags were pressed into service for just about every possible use under the sun.
Bag banning has already hit California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon and Vermont and cities like Boston, Seattle, Boulder and Portland, Maryland’s Montgomery County and Washington D.C. Talk of similar action is brewing in other states as well, so no matter where you live, chances are excellent that if you aren’t already facing similar restrictions, you will be soon, making it important to contemplate other options, especially when heading out to buy your weekly groceries.
As my husband reminded me as I meticulously folded bags into neat little packages over the last three months to hoard them for future use, the fact that bags will no longer be free in stores doesn’t mean that they won’t be available. A quick search on Amazon turned up a case of a thousand plastic shopping bags for $17.61, including shipping, which means that they aren’t all that expensive to buy for those who want to continue using them. To me the bigger question is how am I getting my groceries from point A to point B – to be honest, I don’t see myself schlepping a bag full of plastic bags to my local supermarket every week, which means the time has come to start contemplating reusable bags.
Aside from the convenience factor, I have had a few misgivings. First and foremost has been the notion that leaks do happen and while milk and shampoo spills on the way home from the store can be annoying, oil can be a royal pain to clean up. Meat and poultry drips present larger problems and a University of Arizona study found traces of E. coli and other nasties lingering in reusable bags and suggested washing them regularly. Those reusable heavy duty plastic bags you see for sale in supermarkets definitely aren’t washing machine friendly, which means wiping down the inside of every bag by hand after every trip, definitely not anyone’s idea of fun. Also problematic is figuring out how many bags you need on any given shopping trip and then neatly corralling those shopping bags in your cart while you shop. And, if you put too many heavy items into a single bag, you may find yourself with a bag that you physically can’t lift out of the cart because it just weighs too much.
I have been test driving reusable bags to see which ones I like best. First up was the Lotus Bag Trolley, a set of four cloth bags neatly velcroed together that are sized to fit a standard shopping cart. Conveniently attached to the handle of your cart, the Lotus Bag set stays out of the way while you shop and once you load your groceries onto the conveyor belt, you unhook them and spread them out to fill the cart, the wooden rods set into the top of the bags sitting on the cart’s edges keeping everything neat and organized. These bags stand open on their own and are well thought out – one is insulated to keep your cold stuff from overheating and another has a side pocket to keep your eggs from getting smushed and a wine bottle holder. I strongly suggest sliding the poles out of the Lotus bags when you put them in your trunk for more efficient storage. In addition, do not overloading them – even though they can hold quite a lot – or you will never be able to lift them out of your wagon. Keep in mind that while the regular bags can go in your washing machine, the insulated Lotus bag does need to be wiped down by hand.
Urban Market Bags are another great solution. Available in sets of either three 26 by 12 ½ inch bags or six 22 ½ by 11 ½ inch bags they are packed in a convenient drawstring bag that fits perfectly in your car’s cup holder, into your pocketbook or a corner of your shopping cart, taking up practically no space at all. Made out of durable nylon and appropriately sized so like Goldilocks’ description of Baby Bear’s chair, they are not too big and not too small, wash like a dream and dry equally fast. I plan on getting a couple of carabiner clips in my local dollar store to hook these onto the side of my cart when I go grocery shopping so that they stay out of the way and are easy to get to when checkout time comes.
Another thing to remember about the bag ban is that it doesn’t just apply to your weekly trip to the supermarket. If you pick up a gallon of milk and assorted fruits and veggies on your way home from work, you are going to need to be prepared with some kind of bag – stores have the option of offering paper bags for sale, they don’t have to.
I happen to like things that are small, self-contained and durable. Flip & Tumble’s lightweight 24-7 bags are available in fun colors and are great for carrying groceries – and cute enough to use as a tote bag if you are going to the library or the pool. At 12 by 14 inches, these are a nice size and can hold up to 35 pounds. They are machine washable, dryable and squishable into a tight little ball that takes up practically zero space. Also very practical are Baggu’s popular, reusable, machine washable, lightweight but tough ripstop nylon bags that come in a variety of sizes, colors and patterns. Their standard size bag measures 25 ½ by 15 ½ and can hold as much as two or three plastic grocery bags, with a maximum weight limit of 50 pounds. With their extra long handles, Baggus fit over your shoulder for easy carrying and still fold up into a flat five-inch square pouch, making them another great choice for stashing just about anywhere so that you are never caught without a bag ever again.
Some final words of wisdom: Grab some plastic produce bags in the fruit aisle while you are there and use them to wrap your meat and poultry so that they don’t spew icky bacteria-laden juices all over the other items in your bag, doing the same with eggs and anything else potentially leaky. Toss your bags in the washing machine more often than you think you need to and if you are wiping down non-washable bags, make sure they dry thoroughly before you fold them up and put them away. And lastly, avoid keeping your grocery bags in the car during the hot summer months when any potential bacteria lodged in their walls will multiply. We’re living in a new environmentally friendly world and it most definitely a good idea to make sure that we go green without getting anyone sick!