Resolutions are nothing more than a pledge to alter habits — usually the bad ones. Old-school thought says it takes three weeks to break a habit. But regardless of how long it takes, the journey of change begins with a single step. My family’s journey to live plastic bag-free is an ongoing challenge, and many of the steps have been uphill.
When I pledged to my family we were going to live plastic bag-free, I almost had a mutiny. “No flippin’ way” was the mildest response.
I started first with education — knowledge is power, right? I explained how single-use plastic bags were a bane on the environment and would live in our landfills for hundreds of years, well beyond their minutes of practicality. But the pull of the familiar habit had them doing the same thing — using single-use plastic bags — over and over again.
We did, for a short time, try to wash and reuse them. Logistically, that proved impractical, as we ended up increasing our supply of plastic bags, as some were reused but others were new.
After struggling with trying to effect a change in my family’s bad habit of using these bags and getting nowhere, the solution was simple in its elegance. I simply stopped buying them! (After all, when you are breaking a bad habit, getting rid of the culprit helps with willpower.)
There was a lot of grumbling, slamming of drawers and threats to go and use their own money to buy them. But nothing materialized — no one, it seemed, was willing to spend money on something they said was important, but really wasn’t.
My family survives without single-use plastic bags. The bad habit of using something for minutes and then throwing it away was changed, and a more sustainable solution was achieved. For sandwiches, I bought a number of different type and size containers. My favorite was the Wrap-n-Mat from Reuseit.com — a handkerchief-size piece of fabric lined with BPA-free plastic that wraps around sandwiches. It is easily wiped down or washed.
However, there was the crushability factor, so I did buy more plastic containers that are fully recyclable.
To avoid my family’s laziness and use of single-use grocery bags, I bought each family member a stuff sack. It is a full-size grocery bag that stuffs into a little pouch the size of your hand, so it can be carried in a purse or backpack. I bought mine from Cost Plus World Market. They come in fun shapes like animal faces, sunflowers and even a banana.
To avoid the use of cling wrap, I have bought elastic food covers — think a shower cap for your open container. They come in three sizes: small to cover open cans, medium for plates and large for oversized bowls. They are washable and, therefore, reusable.
Do we live completely free of the one-time-use plastic bag? To be honest, no.
There are occasions when we are reusable bag-less, there is no paper alternative and we can’t carry our items without a bag. There are restaurants that package in plastic, such as Taco Bell, which gives conscientious consumers no choice about alternatives.
However, we do take all our plastic bags, including bread bags, to grocery stores for recycling.
But we have stopped buying single-use reclosable bags and have saved money every month doing it.
Living sustainably doesn’t need to be accomplished all at once. Like a resolution, take it one step, one bad habit at a time. Why not resolve to live a more sustainable life for 2012? You will be surprised to find it will align with all your resolutions.
For a change: Recycle all your plastic grocery bags. Avoid using them for pet waste or garbage pail liners, as they will still end up in a landfill.
To make a difference: Take reusable bags to the grocery store. Even if you don’t have enough for the full purchase, you will be avoiding some plastic bags.
To make a stand: Stop buying reclosable plastic bags. Find an alternative that avoids throwing the container away after a single use.
• Christina D.B. Frankel has lived in Tracy for more than 20 years and is an architect and mother of three. Her column, Living Green, runs every so often in the Tracy Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.