How to Shop Without a Plastic Bag

You’ve heard all the people talking about it. How plastic bags are essentially suffocating the earth, either in landfills, oceans or just out and about in rural and urban landscapes.

But it’s hard to switch to reusable right? I mean you have about 20 reusable bags at home, but you always seem to forget them when going to the store… And then you have to get another plastic bag again.

You are not alone!

But there are things that can help you along in your plastic bag-free life!

Firstly, it is always best to use whatever you already have. So if you have a stockpile of reusable bags, I strongly encourage you to use them. I prefer the bags that are made out of actual cloth, not the structured ones that have a plastic coating on the outside. The cloth ones are able to be put in the washing machine, whereas the plastic coated ones are not. There have been a lot of cases of people getting sick from salmonella and e-coli because of the bacteria left in their bags after they’ve used it to carry meat or eggs, and then weren’t able to wash it afterwards. So if possible, use the ones that are able to be washed, and do so especially after they’ve transported possible contaminants.

If you find that you are always forgetting them, rethink your methods! If you take a car to go shopping, keep them in the car. But don’t put them in the trunk – put them within your sight like in the front passenger seat. By having them right in front of you, you will be more prone to remember them. If you don’t have room in the passenger seat because someone is sitting there, ask them to be the bag-rememberer (that’s a word, right? 😉). If someone else is keeping you in check, you are more likely to remember. You could even have a post-it note on your dashboard saying “Don’t forget your bags!”. A friendly reminder at the beginning of your journey can really help solidify it in your mind. And of course, when you are done shopping (and washing your bags), make sure to return them to your car so you have them for next time!

If you are the type to walk, bike or take public transit to go shopping, make sure to store your bags right by the front door so you grab them on your way out. Having a basket with all of your low-waste shopping supplies like jars, bags, and other containers can be a really handy way to reduce your single-use plastic consumption. Just make sure to return your bags and other items after you have brought them back home.

If you want a more extreme way to help you remember – “punish” yourself for forgetting your bags. Refuse the plastic bag that is offered, and then awkwardly carry everything home with you, in your purse or in your arms. Or force yourself to leave behind items that you cannot carry. This will be just inconvenient enough to make it so that you never forget your bags again.

I find that a lot of people respond very well to using collapsible, reusable bags for their shopping. I really like the brand ChicoBag, who are the original creators of these types of bags. They fit nicely in a purse or backpack, and are always there when you need them! It is easier to remember them if you always have them in the same pocket or area of your purse, that way you can double check before you leave the house to make sure they are there. These types of bags are great for more impulsive shopping because they are always on you! So you will have no excuse to take a plastic bag!

Sometimes, even if you bring bags with you, you are still stuck with someone trying to insist that you take a bag. I find this especially happens when I go shopping at the Farmer’s Market. At the Market they are trying to be as efficient as possible, and since it has been expected over the last 20 years that people just want plastic bags, that is still the norm at a lot of places. The Market can be a wonderful place to find package-free items, so it is ironic that bags just get thrown at you, but alas, we as a culture are not perfect yet…

My tip for avoiding bags at the Market is to be very assertive! I work it into my “script” when I talk to the vendors: “Hello, I’m going to get 3 peppers and I don’t need a bag” OR “Hi there, can I get a basket of mushrooms, but can you pour them into my own bag?”. Sometimes you have to say it multiple times, but don’t give up! I once was trying to get oranges, but they were in baskets lined with a plastic bag. When I paid for a basket, I started picking them out of the basket and placing them in my own bag and the vendor said “they’re already in a bag!” and when I responded that I didn’t want it he was so confused and a bit aggressive that I should take it because it’s free!

It’s incredible how much further we have to go in our plastic-free journey but will little steps that we can incorporate into our daily lives, we can all make a difference!