Are reusable bags worth it?

Dig a trench through a landfill and you will see layers of phone books like geographical strata or layers of cake…. During a recent landfill dig in Phoenix, I found newspapers dating from 1952 that looked so fresh you might read one over breakfast.
~William Rathje

I haven’t discussed reusable bags in a while, so I figured I’d return to the topic. I like reusable bags. I like the concept. I was using reusable bags before they were popular (O SNAP). But I was using them because I lived on the third floor and hauling up ten little plastic bags was a pain in the ass. Hauling up one larger canvas bag was much easier. Somehow none of my roommates have figured this out. Oh well.

But while I love my canvas tote (got it for free, which just makes it better), I hate those cheap plastic ones you get at the grocery store. One, they’re made in China. Two, you have to pay for them. Three, they’re made of plastic. A lot of plastic. And I find myself wondering how many plastic bags you’d have to avoid getting at the store to make it environmentally friendly. And I see people with five or six of them, because they’re small. Both of mine are monsters. Unless I’m getting cat food or two-liter bottles of soda (the latter never happens anymore), I never overfill mine. Then again, I got mine specifically to haul up stairs.

That plastic thing is what’s got me looking askew at reusable bags. It seems…hypocritical. Greenwashing, maybe. How much plastic do you actually save using a plastic made-in-China-and-bought-for-.99 reusable bag?

So here we go again with the mantra. Want to be unquestionably green? Go to Goodwill and pick up someone’s old unwanted tote bag. Or ask your mother if she’s got one with the Pfizer logo on it hiding in her closet (mine did). Or use the one your boss handed to you because he didn’t want it. If you’ve already got a plastic one, use the hell out of it.

Come to think of it, this same argument can be used about reusable water filter pitchers. That’s a lot of plastic, too. And then the filters have to be changed, and they’re encased in plastic. Of course, there’s the money issue…a filter is much cheaper in the long run than buying even the 2.5 gallon jugs of water. But I got my filter pitcher at Goodwill ($2.99), so all I have to worry about are the filters (more than $2.99).

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5 Responses to “Are reusable bags worth it?”

  1. When I was 16 my mom and I started taking reusable bags to the Pathmark because they gave you 5 cents off for each bag you used. Every single one of them was a bag she had gotten at some conference or another. They still get used, 20 years later, all holding up exceptionally well. I can’t stand those nasty ones sold in the stores now. My friend Lydia has one (a little nicer than the $.99 ones) which says “I’m greener than you bitch.” Sums it up, if you ask me.

  2. I’ve found plastic reusable bags made from old pop bottles, so that’s at least somewhat of a saving grace. A lot of mine are secondhand, though, and the ones that aren’t are *ancient*.

  3. Julie Says:

    You know those water filter cartridges? I thought they were a little expensive so I started making a hole in the top by cutting out a chunk of the plastic with an exacto knife (hexagon pentagon whatever shape you like) dumping out the used up activated charcoal and refilling with new stuff from the aquarium store. Then just reattach the plastic bit with crazy glue. And Bob’s your uncle.

    • I’ve been considering doing the same, actually. I already do it for aquarium filters…save the old bag, refill with charcoal. Nice to hear that someone else out there’s already doing it. :D

      • Julie Says:

        The other secret about the charcoal water filters is that they can turn cheap vodka (or moonshine) from bad to good with a few pours through the filter ;-))

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