My name is Megan, and I’m hooked on plastic bags

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West Hollywood, I defy your plastic bag ban! I just smuggled in an entire plastic bag full of plastic bags! Mwahahaha…
West Hollywood, I defy your plastic bag ban! I just smuggled in an entire plastic bag full of plastic bags! Mwahahaha…

We’ve talked about ditching plastic, we’ve talked about the joys of re-usable bags, and all that other great-for-the-environment stuff.

Oh, but my darling Homies, I have something to confess… I’m addicted to plastic grocery bags. Before you banish me to Earth-hater jail, allow me to explain…

These plastic bags are an integral part of my waste-management system: I line all my small trashcans in the living room, bedroom, and bathrooms. Once the trashcan is full, I lift out the plastic bag, tie it off, and toss it. This makes it easy to take out the trash AND keeps my cans from getting gross. I also use the bags to clean out my litter box. I can also use them for picking up dog poop.

grocery bag trash can liner

Recently my neighborhood of West Hollywood implemented a ban on these magical plastic bags. While I love the plastic bag ban on Maui (an island-wide ban was implemented back in 2011) because it keeps plastic bags from floating into the very nearby ocean and killing ocean wildlife — I HATE having it in West Hollywood.

When the ban was first implemented I tried using compostable bags to line my trash cans, but they were too small and didn’t feel strong enough to stand up to my kitty litter dealings. They also didn’t have those handy-dandy handles. I also thought about buying plastic grocery bags on Amazon. But that felt wasteful, knowing full well that there were plastic bags out there, already in circulation.

How I feel when I get a delivery of plastic bags.
How I feel when I get a delivery of plastic bags.

So while others are thinking and celebrating ways to get rid of excess plastic in their homes, I’m hoarding plastic bags, and getting shipments in the mail of nothing but bags from my mom’s plastic bag-rich home in Texas. Yes y’all, I’m currently IMPORTING plastic bags.

I have a feeling my relationship with plastic bags might be upsetting to some of you. I know my addiction is controversial. But the heart wants what the heart wants. And I feel okay about it, since I’m re-using every single bag, not a one is going to end up in the throat of a fishy or a turtle.

Are there other plastic-lovers in the house? What do you use your plastic grocery bags for — are there uses I haven’t even thought of? Alternately, to those who can’t get their bags off the black market, how are you coping with your bag bans?

Comments on My name is Megan, and I’m hooked on plastic bags

  1. We had lots of insects in our apartment during the winter (yay, southeastern US), and the exterminator specifically told us to get rid of our plastic bag collection (I guess bugs like hanging out in bags?). I use plastic bags all the time for all kinds of things, and I was sad to have to get rid of my collection (yes, recycling is available, though I don’t actually know where the bags went when they got recycled). Now I just keep one or two on hand at a time. But sometimes I have a fear, “What if I need a plastic bag, and I don’t have one?!”

  2. Aside from the poop issue (plastic bags all the way), I just wanted to comment that the same stuff can be done with the paper bags from the grocery store. We started using them when we put in a disposal and our old garbage can didn’t fit under our sink anymore. And then it was an epiphany! Why were we paying to wrap our garbage in plastic, when we can toss it for free into degradable paper? We do have a garbage disposal, so we don’t have a ton of “wet stuff” going in, but the regular paper bags from the grocery store do just fine holding regular kitchen garbage like coffee grinds, etc. They would definitely hold diapers, regular bathroom garbage, etc. And the ones with the handles are super easy to carry outside. Wins!

    • Ooh, my paper bags are used as my recycling bin! I don’t have ANY room in my tiny kitchen for two garbage bins, but enough room for one paper sack in the corner, and boom! Once it fills up, I carry it down to our big recycling bins. But the shitty party is that the grocery stores started charging for paper bags once the plastic ban happened! I don’t get that.

      • The logic on charging for paper is that now there is an incentive for you to get reusable bags.

        • Yes, this. Our county has had a plastic bag ban for… a year now? And paper bags are 10 cents each. I rarely forget bags now (I keep several in my car, and it’s second nature to replace them/bring them into the store) because it’s been long enough that I’m really used to it. It’s not hard to train yourself to bring reusable bags. We have a big bag of them in the house and when we do a big shopping trip and use up all the ones in the cars, we put a pile by the front door so we take them back down again. It has become second nature now– it’s totally possible!

    • As long as I can remember my mom has used paper bags for both garbage and recycling. She lives alone and doesn’t generate much trash so every week she takes her one paper bag to the trash can. When my brother and I lived with her, she’d put two paper bags side by side in one big trash bag and leave that for the garbage truck. Sometimes the paper sack requires a little strategy (like, you don’t want to just dump a whole bunch of wet leftovers in there – my mom uses another container she’s already throwing away for that messy trash) and there have been a couple incidents that required wiping the floor where the trash bag sits but, really, it’s not impossible.

  3. I live in Seattle, which has a bag ban. And I thought I’d miss the bags, but I don’t really.

    We don’t use a liner in our kitchen trash because everything mucky goes into recycling or compost (or the scrap bucket for the chickens). So that trash can is dry and clean, usually with just things like the plastic that the pasta comes packaged in.

    We have a liner in the bathroom trash, but we don’t change it out unless it is really gross! So that plastic bag lasts for months.

    Otherwise, we get enough random bags here and there– with the produce or the laundry bag in a hotel room, to meet all of our other bag “needs”. I use a re-usable (and washable) lunch bag for work.

    I’m glad I don’t rely on the bags as much anymore. They were really wastefull.

  4. Sigh. This breaks my heart a little. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer… but most of these struggles with giving up plastic bags seem (in retrospect, speaking as someone who gave them up years ago) to be such minor stumbling blocks in the long run. Here are some of the solutions we’ve come up with:

    (a) Being honest about our trash. The truth is, our tiny waste baskets didn’t really fill up with anything but used tissues and some cough drop wrappers. Nothing that would make a trashcan sticky or gross. Did we really need plastic bags for those, just b/c it was a tiny bit easier to empty them? Nope. We still use a tall garbage bag for the kitchen and we get a slightly oversized bag — when we empty the kitchen garbage, we also go around and condense all the other waste baskets into the one single bag. Since we also do composting, there’s hardly ever any kind of “gross” waste that ends up in the trash, anyway, even in the kitchen (so we don’t have to empty it all that often — composting and recycling make a huge difference!). One bag every month or so is usually enough. If a waste basket does happen to get a bit icky, it’s super easy to wash it out once a year, and a small sacrifice to make rather than using 52+ plastic bags for every trash can!

    (b) Kitty litter. I’ve had a cat all my life, and I’ve never used a kitty litter liner, so I don’t really get that, honestly. I hear people say it makes it easier to clean… but I don’t understand how they keep their cat from simply ripping through the liner and creating a bigger mess that now includes shredded plastic… But I digress. 🙂 When we got our current cat, we switched to compostable (and flushable) Swheat Scoop litter, which made cleaning really easy (what didn’t get flushed just got dumped right into the compost, and a few minutes with soap and water were all the litter box needed to be good as new). And starting last month we’ve begun transitioning the cat away from a litter box entirely, training him to use the toilet (inspired by a post right here on Offbeat Home!) — so our kitty-related waste will soon be reduced to almost nothing. We’re super excited!

    (c) We don’t have a dog, but my parents do. They’ve been using those tiny compostable baggies for doggie doos on walks for years. (The parks in their neighborhood even have them available for free for dog-walkers who forget!) They use the same kind of bag for their countertop compost can, so composting and doggie waste can go right into the pile without having to leave the baggie. (It’s extra helpful if you’re city does composting as part of their waste management plan, but you can even do composting in a small backyard if you know how to take precautions for animal waste.)

    Reusing plastic bags made sense when that’s all you could get in the stores — but the problem is that no matter how many times you reuse them, eventually they *do* end up in a landfill somewhere. (When you use them for dog poop or to line a waste basket, for instance.) It’s true that a small part of the problem is intact bags ending up floating in the water that look like jellyfish, and that can be a choking hazard for wildlife. But the MUCH BIGGER problem is the way that plastic degrades — it breaks down into microscopic nanoparticles invisible to the naked eye. Even plastic bags in landfills do this, seeping into the water supply and — you guess it — eventually making their way to the ocean. No matter how far away you live. (Everyone is part of a watershed.) Scientists now say that there’s a “plastic soup” that coats the top surface layer of ocean water almost everywhere in the world, leeching dangerous chemicals into the water that can cause not just suffocation, but also cancer and all sorts of other harmful effects (to ocean life, and to us).

    I really admire that you have the courage to acknowledge that your love of plastic is actually an addiction, and I hope I don’t come across as a lecturing doomsdayer or anything. Maybe you can find some supportive friends to help you make the transition away from plastic, and then you can be a support system for others who need to make the change.

    • I just want to say that I really love this comment. It is so polite, informative, and awesome. I don’t have to clean up after pets but like you I’ve noticed that I don’t actually need liners in my little trash cans. On trash day I just dump them into the big kitchen trash, which doesn’t get very full because we recycle a lot. I’m still stumped about composting in a tiny apartment. Maybe a vermiculture box?

      • On composting in a tiny apartment (because composting is great!) – vermiculture is great if you have a good spot for it, but if not: do you have any friends who compost? It’s kind of a random question to ask someone, I know, but most people who do compost are pretty committed to it (in my experience) and would not be at all taken aback by someone asking if they could save up their compost and contribute it to their pile every once in a while.

        Also, if you are a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm, you can always ask them if they compost (they usually do) and ask if you can contribute!

  5. Funnily enough, we’re currently in Austin which is one of the few places in Texas that *has* banned plastic bags. And I’m the same way – I simply cannot bring myself to use an unlined trash can (especially in the bathroom – eww, feminine hygiene products touching a bare can!) but once the ban was implemented, we slowly ran out. I’m okay throwing my used tissues and napkins now, but cat litter and hygiene products aren’t going into an empty can for as long as I’m around.

    So, in an even more amusing turn of events of exact opposition to your issue, my mom in Hawaii (Oahu, which doesn’t yet have a bag ban) has been sending me care packages lined with plastic bags. It is going okay so far. XD

    In all seriousness, I really, really appreciate the bag bans 95% of the time. Bags were banned in Austin about 6 months after we had moved up, so we got enough time to accumulate bags and adjust to reusable ones. It was actually really nice because it forced me to address environmental issues with hubby (then fiancé) – it’s something I care a lot about (as you mention, growing up *very* near to an ocean full of endangered species makes pollution issues *very* potent), but he never grew up using reusable bags and didn’t really understand the point. I’m glad we’ve built in the habit of using reusables, but I’ll admit that it would be nice to have juuuust a few more plastic bags in the world for cat litter. XD

  6. I work at Trader Joe’s. You want to know why paper bags are now ten cents?
    Because people don’t want to pay it. We’ve cut down on the bags we order by HALF.
    People are bringing in their own bags, and it’s wonderful.
    Here’s a blog post I wrote about bag bans:
    http://waygookincooking.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/so-your-city-has-a-bag-ban-how-to-cope/

    Plastic bags are also banned because they can’t efficiently be recycled. Los Angeles is already filled with garbage, this ban is an effort to reduce that.

  7. I love plastic bags too. Besides the ways you mentioned I also have them hanging on several door nobs throughout the house for easy cleanup of all the garbage I find from my 2 year old. Also to put my dirty cloth diapers in., because I can never remember the wetbag but also have a bunch of plastic bags in the diaper bag! No bag ban here yet

  8. We ditched plastic bags in my household at least 5 years ago, well before my California city’s bag ban. We use corn-based biodegradable bags for garbage bags & to hold the droppings scooped out of the litter box. I don’t know why ppl complain about the bio-bags being not strong enough — we’re only a household of two, so maybe we don’t have as much garbage as some, but we’ve never had a problem where a bio-bag ripped in the few moments it takes to lift the bag from the inside trash bin to the outside bin that we wheel to the curb each week. *shrug* We put wet, goopy stuff in the bio-bags, since we don’t have a garden/lawn to use compost on. And we don’t buy any particular brand, just whatever I find on sale online (usually on Amazon once or twice a year; I stock up). Seriously, give ’em a good try!

    Oh, the 1 kind of “normal” plastic bag I still use is ziplocks. Man, I love the hell outta those. I wash & reuse each one at least a dozen times, unless it had something super-greasy or smelly inside.

  9. Ok, three things…..
    1. Thanks form making me feel like less of a weirdo for using plastic bags for everything. My grandma even used to use them to cover her hair when it rained, you know, like a bag lady version of the old lady plastic rain hats.
    2. Props for the HEB bag in the first pic. I used to live in Texas and miss HEB. 🙁
    and 3. You rolling around in plastic bags à la cartman-with-kyle’s-money is freaking hilarious and made me laugh out loud in the middle of an airport. http://youtu.be/pi3pJL-BmU4?t=21s

    • BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! OMG, that South Park clip is EXACTLY what I was going for. Totally nailed it.

      Also, the HEB bags make me laugh too, because I don’t think I’ve ever been in an HEB in my life! Seeing that logo always makes me remember that I’m getting my bags imported. 😉

  10. Yep, we use plastic bags for small bins around the house too. I do everything I can to cut down — we recycle our excess (you can take them back to the store here for recycling, which makes it super easy), we use reusable canvas bags for shopping as often as possible, if there’s room in the big bag of garbage and the bin garbage isn’t too gross I’ll dump it from one bag to the other and reuse the bag. I recycle everything I can, to the point of saving up stacks of things that they won’t pick up curbside to take in myself. We can’t compost right now and we have no garbage disposal, so a plastic bag in the kitchen bin is required. We wash and reuse Ziplocs, too, unless it was used to hold raw meat. If they had the option for separating out burnables we’d do that too.

    We don’t have a cat right now, but when I did composting and flushing kitty litter were not options. The only option was to wrap it up tight in a plastic bag and put it in the middle of your garbage bag, because if it was in a separate container of any kind they’d refuse to pick up ALL your garbage and you’d have to take it to the dump yourself (and they’d fine you). This was when I lived in a town where garbage pick up was every 2-3 weeks. I’d end up with bags of garbage sitting in my front hall while I waited for it to be time again. I’m not sure if the rules in my current town are the same for animal waste (they had the same thing about dog poop bags), but I wouldn’t be surprised, seeing as I’m just a few towns over. It’s not an issue for us at the moment, but it is something that comes up.

    Bottom line, we do what we can, but we’re still in a place where using plastic bags is a necessity for us. (There’s also the question of my mental and physical health vs. the environment — I’m disabled and mentally ill, and I’m the person who cleans the house for various reasons (which I don’t mind). The environment is important to me, but what’s more important to me is that I can still function on a day-to-day basis and dealing with garbage takes a LOT of my spoons.)

    Oh, and another thing grocery store plastic bags are useful for — stash a few in your purse/backpack while on a nature walk and clean up the garbage that other people leave behind! I went for my first walk in my new neighborhood yesterday and there was a LOT of trash by the side of the road in the farmlands area. I’ll be bringing some bags on my next walk. (And maybe attaching a spike to the end of my cane so stuff is easier to pick up.)

    • Stash a few in your purse/backpack while on a nature walk and clean up the garbage that other people leave behind!

      Ooh! I love that idea.

      • My friend Brandon does this and it makes my heart warm and fuzzy. And inspires me to do the same. I just usually forget a bag and wind up juggling handfuls of trash.

  11. I live in Seattle, where we also have a plastic bag ban. I like using reusable cloth bags for groceries since they’re so much stronger and I walk everywhere, including to and from the grocery store, but I also ran into the problem of no plastic bags for pets. I moved from Kentucky not long ago, and I always used my grocery bags for cleaning up after my dog there. My solution: produce bags. I’m a vegetarian so I usually have enough produce bags every week, but I usually grab a few extra when I go to the grocery store just in case.

  12. sorry if this has been posted before, the comments were tl;dr. but when I’m wearing my grody garden boots and don’t feel like taking them off, I wrap the soles in plastic bags so I don’t track mud all over the house.

  13. When I only had one cat, I used paper lunch bags to scoop used kitty litter into. I don’t know it if it’s much better for the environment than plastic bags, but I figured it was a step in the right direction.

  14. We are a plastic bag free household. I buy these for dog poop. They’re compostable, come in a box of 200 that lasts FOREVER, and a good size/sturdy: Dogipot Litter Bags

    I also always keep two reuseable shopping bags in my purse at all times. I have those little ChicoBags that stuff into themselves and basically take up no space at all my bag.

  15. I use plastic bags the same way. I was starting to run out in my old town that also had a bag ban, but now I am overfull again. Perhaps we should have a bag drive for you, Megan?

    • Awwww. 🙂 I’m good actually — ever since I instagramed that photo of me frolicking with all my bags, I had an influx of them sent my way!

  16. Our supermarket, Wegmans, has a shopping bag recycling bin right in the front of the store and they take the old ones and make new ones…so hopefully most of them don’t end up in land fills. I try to use reusable shopping bags (the ones from Aldi’s are really hefty and ginormous and fit all of the groceries in one bag). I have never worn one out or had to replace it.

    As for the kitty litter. I got one of those small Simple Human trashcans with the foot lever and sealed lid and when I scoop, I put it in there during the week and just empty it into the larger trash when I clean out the cat boxes at the end of the week. Since it only has litter scoops in it, it does get gross but you can’t smell it when it’s closed. The can has its own hard plastic liner bin that I can take out about once a month, fill up with vinegar and baking soda and let it soak, and then once it’s all clean, put it back in. Works great, no plastic bags.

    I typically have just the one kitchen garbage bag and the one with the cat litter and all the rest of the house trash cans each week. I do use the disposable grocery bags in one of my trash cans (the one under the sink), but that’s it.

  17. Careful! Your shark is about to eat your plastic bag stash!

    I’ve finally started using my reusable bags after going to even and walking away with more then I ever wanted/needed. Then in my moving I found that I had three boxes of trash bags exclusively for fitting into my bathroom trash can. I don’t remember buying these. I don’t know where they came from. But…there they are. Then my work keeps giving out free doggy poop bags and my apartment complex has free doggy poop bags. And I don’t have a cat.

    So basically I have no use for the 20 or so plastic bags I have stashed under my sink. I tried to take them to the library, they always had bins with them for people to load their books into. But apparently the library has taken a BYOB (bring your own bag) stance and didn’t want them. So now I’m thinking the food bank might want them. They used to always ask for people to donate them.

    I do keep getting more because while I’m very good at remembering them for the grocery store I’m pretty terrible about remembering them for running to any other store.

  18. Living in a city with a plastic bag ban, I don’t really miss them at all. For cat litter, I put it in a small paper bag, like the kind you might carry your lunch in. I then deposit it directly in the outside trash bin. Simple.

    • So then you just dump the wet bags into your big outdoor can? I love this idea, but I don’t think we can go totally bagless. In our city, I never put loose trash in the can because it always, always ends up on the street. The trash collectors are not careful about getting stuff in the truck and don’t care if any blows away. Heaven forbid it is windy on trash day. Please let me know if I’m missing something!

  19. Not sure where this rates on the Earth-friendly scale, but if you buy your kitty litter in those giant plastic tubs, you can save an empty one and then use it to scoop into. They actually re-seal pretty tight and keep in the stink. So you can just leave the tub near the boxes, scoop into them until they are full, then toss. No bags!

    We’ve tried buying the tub that you refill at the pet store, but the refill always cost more than the new tub. :-/

  20. Categories, dude. Make the most of the bags you have! Minimize trash in the first place, then get creative. There are so many substitutions available in the typical household since, unfortunately, so many products we buy come in plastic packaging. In our house we use the liners from cereal boxes and the plastic bags from processed snacks like chips to clean the litter box, and save bread bags, used zip-locks, and anything similarly non-porous for walking the dog. I’ve also used the plastic wrapping from toilet paper packages for dog-walking- folded and strategically near outdoor dumpsters and trash cans. I recognize it’s a little extreme but we’re that concerned about the environmental issues. I’m not saying it’ll work for everyone- or that I believe my partner actually follows this system when I’m not around- but it might help some folks in a pinch! If we ever get more consistent access to sustainably packaged food, we’ll prob spring for some compostable dog walking bags but we’ve never run out.

    • Ooooooh. Some of these things just blew my mind. The bread bags — fuck yeah! Chip bag to clean the litter box — can do! Awesome pants.

    • When you’re ready for compost dog bags, EarthRated makes ones that are veggie based and can be accepted in compost programs that take pet waste! Our city doesn’t, so I don’t used them, but I use their other normal biodegradable bags and they are awesome.

  21. I personally really hate getting plastic bags: partly for the Earth-saving reasons, and partly because they take up so much dang SPACE! I use my cloth bags for pretty much everything, decline bags at every store unless I can’t fit the item into my purse (which is one reason why I only own large tote bags), and somehow they still manage to find their way into my home. I don’t use them for litter because where I live the city will pick it up for me, and because I don’t produce a ton of garbage using them as liners doesn’t get rid of them nearly fast enough. I have no idea what to do with them, or even how half of them find their way under my sink!

  22. I keep saying that the next BIG industry is going to be garbage mining and extreme recycling. If I had the funds, I’d set up my garbage mining operation and be ready for when recycling technology makes garbage one of our most valuable resources.

  23. I went through this a bit when the bag ban finally went through in Austin. I was working with a full-time kitten shelter at the time and the owner was extremely nervous about finding a viable solution to replacing the bags she used to scoop litter-several a day/every day. I hoarded lots. (I had used reusable bags primarily for a few years already, but still managed to build up a collection from random things) Even my grandma, who lived in an area without a ban, hoarded them for me. It was a small home-run shelter and she literally spent everything she made on the care of those kittens. I don’t even want to think of the additional cost she incurs now having to buy disposable bags (that rip easier and have no handles) from the pet store.
    I understand why we’re wanting to reduce the bags, but it still annoyed me having people around me talking about the main cause being litter. If that were the case, they would be banning beer bottles and fast food packaging around here as that is literally all I see littered around the city.

  24. After living with roommates in the past who got plastic bags for EVERY LITTLE THING and then stuffed them in a cabinet in the kitchen until we had 100s of them….I’ve hated plastic bags for several years and have mostly tried to avoid taking them from stores whenever possible. One of my biggest pet peeves is when restaurants and stores start to bag my stuff without asking – even if it’s something tiny or completely carry-able, or even if I’m carrying two reusable bags with me. I hate having to come off as that bitch always asking them not to bag my stuff.
    However, I’ve been taking care of a friend’s cat this semester while she’s out of the country. Let’s just say that I appreciate plastic bag’s extra uses a lot more now and begrudgingly get them when I can.
    Overall, I think they can be super useful, but I absolutely hate that so many people waste them or endlessly “collect” them without doing anything with them. And I wish there were better earth-friendly options for dealing with kitty letter (echoes a thousand commenters…).

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