Why I’m opposed to reusable shopping bags

29 Feb

As promised, here is my rant about reusable shopping bags.

When H and I were discussing our budget problem with the grocery bill (see preceding post), he suggested I do all the shopping at Aldi. Aside from the fact that Aldi isn’t anywhere nearby or convenient, they make you bring your own shopping bags. I didn’t shop at Aldi in America for this reason and they are no more endearing to me here in Australia.

When I explained to him my aversion to Aldi, he went into Typical Australian mode and started lecturing me about the environment. We’ve had similar discussions before. The last one was about the usefulness of recycling paper (ask me about that one later!) and now it’s about plastic bags.

Australians have, perhaps rightfully, earned a reputation for being environmentally conscious. Americans, on the other hand, are known for being, well… not.

It’s possible that while I do actually care a great deal about the environment, I may reaffirm this stereotype anyway with the politically incorrect stuff I’m about to say, as I don’t buy into all the latest “green” trends, especially ones promoted by the government or by corporations.

So when someone, even my darling, beloved H, tells me I should purchase and use reusable shopping bags, my answer is usually, “Screw the environment!”

(Just not in the way you probably think I mean.)

I happen to reuse those plastic shopping for a wide variety of different purposes. If I spend money at a store, I demand to be given a token shopping bag that costs a fraction of a cent in which to carry my purchases to my car and then into my home. I notice that there are several chains in Australia that do not provide shopping bags (like Officeworks and Bunnings) and I refuse to patronise those businesses. I believe that it is not unreasonable to expect a business to provide that sort of common courtesy to me, The Customer, and I don’t like shopping at places that refuse to show me any gratitude for spending my money there by offering me cheap plastic sacks.

I realise I may now have to bite the bullet and shop at Aldi now and then just to get the grocery bill down. I figure if I buy enough stuff at Woolworth’s, then I can take my carefully gathered stash of plastic bags to Aldi to reuse them there and if I am very careful not to rip them, I could possibly get a second use out of some of them, though probably not all of them.

But there is also the problem that I will actually have to remember to take them with me, which is asking a lot, because I am extremely forgetful and often forget even more important things, like the credit card or coupons or the shopping list. I think the chances are high that I will frequently forget to bring my own bags to Aldi.

So before anybody starts going on about how reusable bags are so much better for the environment, it’s worth pointing out a few things.

Aldi sells bags for “customer convenience”, but it’s neither convenient nor green. It’s just a money maker.

First, if I drive all the way to Aldi (and I have to drive, as I can’t carry a week’s worth of groceries with me on the tram) and I arrive and find I have to go all the way back home to get my own shopping bags, I would imagine I’m leaving a much bigger carbon footprint than I would if Aldi just provided me with plastic shopping bags like a normal grocery store should.

Secondly, I hate China. I’ll probably get around to making a post about how much I hate China someday, but for now, I’ll just say that I hate that almost everything we buy is made in China. This includes reusable shopping bags. I don’t know how much the Chinese are polluting the planet with their reusable shopping bag factories, what with their lax regulations on pollution, but I bet it’s a hell of a lot more than I pollute the earth with my plastic shopping bags that I reuse until they break.

A polypropylene factory

Even if they are not made in China, no matter what type of bag you choose, it does have an impact on the environment. The environmental impacts of farming cotton, even organic cotton, are well known and you’d have to use that cotton tote 171 times just to break even on the environmental damage done by its production. Creating polyester is a very energy intensive process and polypropylene bags are made from fossil fuels, just as plastic bags are.

Thirdly, plastic bags do end up in landfills and they will continue to end up in landfills regardless. I mainly reuse plastic shopping bags as rubbish bin liners. This saves me money (which I obviously need to be doing), as buying bin liners is sort of expensive. And no matter whether I buy a bin liner or reuse a shopping bag, the trash still goes into a plastic bag of some sort which ends up in a landfill. Everybody out there using reusable shopping bags is still throwing an awful lot of plastic away every year. And when your reusable bags wear out… well, they end up in a landfill as well.

I also have some health concerns about reusable bags. I don’t buy a lot of meat, but when I do, I tend not to save the bags that the raw meat came home in. Packages of meat do leak and they are covered with germs that can make people very sick. I throw those bags away for a very good reason. With a reusable bag, who knows what germs are hanging around in that bag? You might use it for raw meat one week and end up putting raw produce in there next week. I know I’m a bit of a germophobe, but I’d rather just not take the risk. And frankly, I have enough laundry to do already without adding a load of shopping bags to the mix. (Nevermind the extra water, detergent, and electricity that uses.)

And a lot of the bags made in China have also been found to contain lead (Big surprise! Doesn’t everything in China contain lead?) That’s not something I want touching my food.

Everyone loves a good fashion statement

Reusable shopping bags are more of a trend than anything truly helpful to the environment. They are just another product for stores to sell, conveniently imprinted with their logo. And people buy it because “green” is in and they want to make a statement about how enlightened they are about the environment. What a load of crap.

If you want to help the environment, you should definitely reuse where you can, but that doesn’t mean going out and buying a new product which has to be manufactured through filthy industrial practices that pollute just as much or worse than regular plastic bags. Reuse your plastic shopping bags and don’t take more than you need. It’s that simple. And if that makes me an American who doesn’t care about the environment, so be it.

5 Responses to “Why I’m opposed to reusable shopping bags”

  1. Robotic Rhetoric February 29, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    My town is soon to be blessed/cursed with an Aldi.

    “Reusable shopping bags are more of a trend than anything truly helpful to the environment.”

    Completely agree! I’ve literally just written a post about how solar panels are similar. Enjoyed this, cheers 🙂

    • housewifedownunder February 29, 2012 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks! Read your post on solar panels and some of your others, too. You write very well!

  2. megalagom March 1, 2012 at 3:24 am #

    I must say I didn’t see where you were coming from when I first started reading this post. But after reading through all of it I completely get whhere you are coming from. I reuse my bags but don’t use “reusable” bags. Most places in Sweden ask if you want to purchase a plastic bag to use or you can use one of the small produce bags or one of your own. Thankful they aren’t the cheapo thin plastic but sturdy enough that you only need to use one and then can use it again for other things or the trash can liner. I have a collapsible duffel bag that I always carry in my purse just in case I am buying something and the purchase is small enough (and clean enough) to throw in there. It’s not meant for that but it doubles nicely and easily.

  3. keepingiteasyandsimple March 1, 2012 at 6:09 am #

    I absolutely agree with what you said. Many places in the States are passing laws against the grocery bag. Unlike the reusable bags that must go in the garbage when they rip, the plastic bag can be recycled. It also allows me the freedom to put items in it, give the bag to someone else, and not try to get an expensive bag back. For example, thrift stores, food banks and just giving items to a friend. We use them when selling Girl Scout cookies as well. The store bought bags do not hold up well in the wash either. I don’t think they are cheaper or better in the long run but it is the most politically correct thing right now. (sigh)

  4. D.L. Kamstra March 3, 2012 at 3:07 am #

    I 100% agree with you!!!

    Personally, I do like the reusable bags to some degree. For example, my favorite semi-local (it exists in a few states) grocery store seems to keep cheapening the quality of their plastic bags–they rip quite a bit. So when I am stocking up on some canned foods or boxes and such, I love and do not mind using reusable bags. But for things like meat, or even produce that is wet from misters (and even in those bags they provide to put the produce in), I really don’t want my reusable bag, that I actually PAID for, to get yucky, so I would prefer to have handy cheap plastic bags provided for me to use.

    Perhaps I am not as environmentally conscious as I should be, but I wish some of the paper bags would be more convenient to use as well. I try to reuse my plastic bags as well (generally for trash can liners or as packing material) but I have uses for the paper bags as well occasionally–especially if they are nifty ones with handles! I even remember in high school using the paper ones to cover my text books (at least until the grocery store decided to change the size of the bag and they no longer worked to cover them anymore). I loved the these covers so much more than the store bought ones– I could draw and doodle on my lovely brown bag cover!

    Like you, I also tend to avoid the stores that don’t provide me with free bags for my groceries. It is such a simple courtesy, and even if the store wants to be more environmentally responsible for their bags, they can always offer a recycle bin in the entrance to recycle the plastic bags in. I have noticed this in some of the stores around here. Such a good idea!

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