10 Steps to Stop Your Plastic Bag Habit Forever

by - Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Recently, someone I love dearly told me "I kind of wish they would ban plastic bags so I would stop using them."

Wait, what? I don't remember how I replied, but this comment has haunted and challenged me ever since. My first instinct is to say something smug like "I wish they would ban hammers so I would stop hitting myself in the head," but that isn't useful and actually her thought was ballsy and honest and has lots to teach me.

Because the truth of the matter is we all do things we know are bad for us. Sometimes we do them because they are easier. Sometimes we do them without thinking. Sometimes we do them out of habit. Sometimes we do them because they are made of chocolate and sugar and fat. So even if this particular issue is one that matters enough to me that I would change either way, it is worth it to know that not everyone feels that way. Fighting the current of our own bad habits is hard enough, but fighting the momentum of societal expectations on top of that is even harder.

The scariest part of this is that we have a government who is going to spend the next four years fighting against common sense changes like plastic bag bans. It already happened in Michigan, and we aren't likely to see much different for a while, because they have made it clear that profits and lobbies take precedence over our stewardship over this land. If you want to do the right thing, you can't wait for an invitation. So what do you do?

First, we have to decide it is worth it, and it so is. 

Plastic bags are absolutely horrible for the environment. They have a low rate of being recycled, and plastic waste like these bags are dumped daily into our water and our land.
-By 2050, there will be more plastic than the water than fish, leaving clean water that much harder to come by and poisoning our children with petrochemicals.
-On a smaller, more immediate scale, plastic bags looks just like jellyfish when floating in the water, and so they are ingested at even higher rates than a lot of the other plastic being dumped into the water. Just this week, a dead whale was found with 30 plastic bags in his stomach. 30.

And not to be dark, but one of those could have carried your groceries. Is it alright, is it good stewardship, to kill another living being, created by God, for the sake of a little bit of convenience?  You can say you aren't an environmentalist and it doesn't matter much to you, but the effects are wide-reaching and they will effect your family in your lifetime if things don't change.

Dear friends, it is time to just say No. 

It isn't ok. It is extremely destructive for the least possible convenience. The bare minimum requirement of us as human beings is to try our best, and this is such a simple place to turn negative momentum into a positive action. You can do this,

That said, it won't always be easy. We are pretty hardcore about our reusable bags, but I still forget them ALL the time. Thank goodness there isn't a camera following me around, or they would have seen so many awkward walks through parking lots with too many things balanced in my arms. And there is that terrible moment, mid-shop, where you debate whether to go back to your car or just buy the damn bag.

So, just because we should be doing it doesn't mean implementing the change is always easy. Breaking the habit takes mission, and also some practical help.

Practical Steps to Kick a Plastic Bag Habit

1. Count Your Bags

The first step, my friends, is recognizing the problem. When you bring groceries home this week, count how many bags you used. Then multiple it by your shopping trips all year. That, my friends, is a lot of bags. Do you keep those bags in a drawer somewhere? Try counting them. It will make it feel better when you do use that bag, because you will know the iceberg you are chipping into.

2. Buy Reusable Bags

 The first step to really get started is to have reusable bags to use instead. I would say, it takes half to a third as many reusable bags as it takes plastic ones. So if you usually have 6 bags of groceries, you probably only need 2 or 3 bags. On the other hand, it is good to have some back up bags so when you inevitably forget, you have back ups. On the third hand (too much), you will buy more when you even forget your back ups.

If you see them at your regular grocery store, buy at least one there. You have tons of options. but buying one from your grocery store (especially if you don't live somewhere it is the norm) sends them the message that there is a market for this that they should take seriously.

So, let's look at some of my favorite options, but you really can't go too wrong here:

These fabric totes are Made in America, use natural and recycled materials (cotton), and have stellar reviews. I also think they would hold up well after lots of washes. Might be a winner! These Turtlecreek cotton totes are worth checking out too.

You can also find bags, like these, that use recycled water bottles and other plastics as their materials! Double win!

These colorful bags are also recycled and have stellar reviews.

If you want something a little bigger, these ReBagMe bags also come in pretty designs, so they might make great gift wrapping.

I have also seen these fitted, hanging bags floating around. They honestly look like a lot of work to me, and just the kind of thing that doesn't work out, so the reusable bag idea dies. If someone has actually tried them and likes them, let me know!

3. Fall in Love with Said Bags

You know why reusable bags are addictive? Because it takes one trip to bring everything in from the car, not three. Because they hold so much stuff without falling apart. Because they don't give you those big craters in your arms. Just start using them, you will like it.

4. Give your Bags a Real Spot in the Car

Key to success! The bags need a place in your car to go, because when you drive to the grocery store, they are already with you. We take one bag (specifically, a pretty nice one from our church) and fill it with the rest of the bags. That lives in the trunk. Absolute worst case scenario, we can use it if the rest haven't made it back to the car.

That bag of bags is pivotal for reusable success. They need a place that helps set the new routine.

5. And One for the Way Out of the Car

Once you have emptied the bags of groceries, be sure to put them by the door, so you can just take them to the car the next time you go. Do NOT wait until the next time you are headed to the store. That's a fool's game. Just always assume a trip to the grocery store could happen, because you never know when you will need more milk or paper towels.

6. Commit to Buying a Bag when You Forget

Yep, you are going to forget your reusable bag. Don't accept the plastic bag anyway. No more plastic bags, even if you forget your reusables. This is key. 

 You can carry it all in your arms or buy a paper or reusable bag.  If it costs you a little bit of money (even if it is just to buy a paper bag) every time you forget a bag, you will remember a whole lot more often. If you are somewhere where they aren't easily available, be sure to ask. Just voicing that preference could make all the difference.

Create some stakes for yourself. If you end up with a ridiculous number of reusable bags before the end of the year, use them to wrap Christmas gifts. Think of it as committing to no plastic instead of committing to reusable. This is about avoidance, in the best way possible.

7. Reuse or Recycle the Plastic Bags you Already Have

Now, if you have switched over, you may have small hoards of plastic bags left. If you already have a use for them, perfect! You will be able to do that for a while, and you can figure out a substitute when the bags run out. Here are some options-

- If you don't have a regular plastic bag routine, look into your recycling options where you live. The best thing you can do is recycle that plastic once it is already there (though plastic can only be recycled so many times, so anytime you can avoid plastic, do it!)
- Fold a few into plastic bag footballs and stuff them somewhere for when you forget your reusable bags. Last resort bags.
- Use them as garbage bags, so you can buy less plastic that way!
- Offer them to someone else who does use them for garbage bags. Offer them back to the grocery store.
- Do not throw them away. It's time to turn over a new leaf, and that is crazypants.

Addressing those old bags might be a pain, but it is worth it to have a plan and to get them out. If it's slow, that is fine, but that hoard needs to move out of your home.

8. Tomorrow is a New Day

If you mess up and forget, try again the next time. Go home and immediately put those bags back in your car. And try to remember the next time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and if you beat yourself up about it, you make the whole thing miserable. Pat yourself on the back when you remember your bags (or tell me! I would love to pat you on the back), but don't bother chastising yourself when you don't. Just set yourself up to do well the next time.

9. Talk About It

If you live somewhere where reusable bags are still a rarity, you can mention to the people checking you out how wasteful plastic bags are. Enough of these sorts of comments, and they might mention it to a manager. Or they might start thinking about reusable bags themselves. We have to get free of this idea that you have to be crunchy, obsessive, or otherwise offbeat to use reusable bags. You don't have to CARE, you just have to care. Let other people see you trying to do better, because seeing another person figuring things out has power.

from Remarkably Reusable
10. Give up Produce Bags! 

You have finally kicked the plastic bag habit! Huzzah! You are all kinds of awesome. If you want to free your shopping from plastics, stop using produce bags as well! Those little plastic bags feel necessary, but are they?


In some cases, I get it. Jalapeno can get its hot stink all over everything than rubbing up on other fruit or veggies. It's like the creeper dancing up on people at a party, making the whole place stink of awkward.

But most fruits and veggies will leave each other alone, and you will wash them all anyway, so the obvious choice is to just let them mingle. We take one of our reusable bags, and put all of our produce in it. When we hit the register, we just put it all up there on that. Have we gotten weird looks? Hell yes. But a year into doing it, 4-5 produce bags a week for 50 weeks... that's a lot of plastic we have saved from the landfill.

If you do have a pesky jalapeno, you can also get reusable produce bags! I love these ones which are made of upcycled fabric and basically anything from the Love for Earth store. If you check n Etsy, I bet there are some made near you. We have these. They are made in America, they always seem to be the perfect size, and I love them come jalapeno time.

Alright peeps, you can do this. If you don't live somewhere with the ban, make the ban for yourself.

How to give up using plastic shopping bags

Want to make your home greener? No matter the size or location, you can limit your waste and make your house have a more positive impact on the environment. Check out the Green Home Page for thousands of ideas on how to do it.

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