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Bring Your Own Bags Featured on Nov 04, 2007
Avoid using new grocery bags for one month. It takes a bit of planning, but we'll tell you how to do it!
By re-using grocery bags, you will reduce your CO2 emissions a total of 6 lbs by the end of one month.
6562 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 19.25 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 21 homes for about 1 month!
Ask South Africans what they think of plastic bags. There were so many discarded bags blowing around their country that people started calling them “the national flower” before the government enacted a bag tax. Maybe it’s time we stopped them from “blooming” here too.
The Carbon Connection
Americans consume over 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. Less than 5% of those bags are recycled. The rest end up buried in landfills or wandering the landscape as litter. And that’s a worldwide problem. Plastic bags don’t biodegrade. They break apart into smaller pieces of plastic, but they don’t ever go away. Plastic that has made its way to the Pacific Ocean has gathered together in a large, floating dump called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Part of that mass of floating plastic is located between Hawaii and California and covers an area of ocean twice the size of Texas. And that plastic is working its way into the Pacific Ocean food webs, poisoning marine life.
But don’t think that paper bags are a better alternative to plastic. Americans consume over 10 billion paper bags a year. That requires the cutting down of over 14 million trees to make the paper for those bags. The paper production process releases almost twice the air pollution and 50 times as much water pollution as the production of plastic.
Both plastic and paper bags require energy in the manufacturing process. And that energy most likely comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. Each paper bag requires roughly 4 times as much energy to create as one plastic bag.
Getting It Done
Need help meeting this Challenge? Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Reuse any paper and plastic bags you already have at home. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to bring bags back to the store, so put a stash of bags in your car trunk right now. Did you know that some grocery stores are now giving you money back if you provide your own bags?
- The best answer to the question “Paper or plastic?” is “Neither.” Buy and use reusable cloth bags. You can find those on sale at your supermarket or online. Keep in mind that manufacturing a reusable cloth bag also creates CO2. However, as you use that same bag for a month, six months, a year, the bag pays for itself in pounds of carbon reductions and good karma.
- If you must use new bags, take fewer from the store. Don’t have the clerk double-bag unless it’s absolutely necessary. The gallon of milk you bought doesn’t need a bag. And you can probably manage to carry the Skittles and Advil you bought at the drugstore without a bag.
- There are lots more ways to reuse those old paper and plastic bags. Be creative. Kids can use paper bags for textbook covers and art projects. Plastic bags can become trash can liners, pooper scoopers, lunch bags, packing material, and scores of other things. Need more ideas? Check out some of the creative uses for bags at Craftster.org.
Do you have other suggestions for reducing or reusing grocery bags? If so, please share them in the Challenge forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge requires you to avoid using new grocery bags for a period of one month. If you forget to bring bags to the store a few times during the challenge, it’s no big deal. Just extend the duration of the challenge for a week or so to make up for it. For this Challenge, we’ll be reducing our CO2 emissions by 6 lbs per person per month.
This is a repeatable Challenge. If you get into a routine of reusing bags, you may come back to Carbonrally next month, accept this Challenge again, and save another 6 pounds of CO2! As always, you can also “uncommit” to this Challenge if you find it too tough, and try it again later when you’re up for it.
See the Math
Let’s start with the known or estimated numbers:
- The average American uses and discards 9 bags per week. Of those 9 bags, 7 are plastic and 2 are paper.
- We are assigning a CO2 savings of 0.1 lbs per plastic bag. That includes both the CO2 released when fossil fuels are burned to create the energy needed to manufacture the bag, but also the oil used as raw material to make plastic and the energy used to transport the bag from the factory to your supermarket.
- We are assigning a CO2 savings of 0.3 lbs per paper bag. This number reflects the energy used to manufacture the bag as well as the energy used to transport the bag from the factory to your supermarket.
- The bag use of the average American is then 1.3 lbs of CO2 per week or about 6 lbs per month per person.
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