We’re seeing more in the news about plastic pollution these days.
This week I learned plastic bags once clogged the drainage system in Bangladesh so badly they caused a terrible flood.
I also learned almost half of the plastic in those gyres in the middle of the ocean is abandoned fishing gear.
And that we in the US are way behind when it comes to a coordinated effort to get a handle on plastic. Dozens of countries are experimenting with bans, including countries in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, Canada and Africa. In Kenya, which has the toughest plastic bag ban in the world, one environmental economist says plastic bags are so numerous “it’s almost become our national flower.”
Ireland instituted a tax on plastic bags in 2002, and within weeks 94% of the single use bags disappeared. Just like that. Plastic bags became uncool, practically overnight.
In the US, there is no coordinated national effort to fix our plastic problems. The heavy lifting has been left to cities and states, and progress is slow — but there is progress. In 2014, California was the first state to ban plastic shopping bags and charge for paper. Seattle just passed a ban on utensils and straws. My town charges five cents for paper bags and bans plastic grocery bags (not produce bags). Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico all have programs in place to tax, ban or develop special recycling programs. In other words, if you’re a fellow plastic addict trying to break the habit, take heart. We’re part of something big. Look for leaders who are willing to fight unnecessary plastic, and support them. And at home, we (I say “we” because I’m trying to change my habits too, and it ain’t easy!) need to examine what we use, and how, and do our bit. Culture changes not just from the top down, but also from the bottom up.
So, let’s get to it. In prior posts I sang the praises of cotton shopping bags. This week it’s produce bags. How to reduce the temptation to just yank those babies off the ubiquitous and ever-handy rolls?
The same way we break the shopping bag addiction. Don’t use produce bags unless you need them. If you’re only getting three or four apples, they can ride in your cart without a bag. Carry reusable bags for when you really need a bag.
There are dozens of kinds of reusable produce bags available at grocery stores and online. I like a brand called 3B’s Bags. 3B’s bags are polyester mesh, washable, see-through so cashiers can read the code, and have a tag with the tare weight, so conscientious clerks can subtract the weight. The bags weigh almost nothing, but some clerks are kind enough subtract the weight anyway, and I think it makes us both feel good.
Yes, 3B’s bags are plastic, but for me the goal isn’t to quit using plastic, but to use it well, and minimally.
If you want to avoid plastic altogether though, several companies make mesh and opaque all-cotton bags. I use all-cotton bags made by Ecobags.com, and love them.
Of course, produce bags aren’t just to carry produce home. How do you keep fruits and vegetables fresh if you’re avoiding thin film produce bags?
- Reuse the plastic bags that inevitably show up in your life. Bread bags are particularly good for this.
- After washing your lettuce, pat or spin it semi-dry and wrap it in a tea or kitchen towel. The bit of water on the leaves will dampen the towel. Towels are better than plastic. The lettuce leaves can breathe, and don’t get slimy.
- Apples, oranges, peaches, pears don’t need to be in plastic. Just put them in the fruit crisper.
- As noted in an earlier post, stock up on a good supply of storable containers with tight fitting lids that can be washed, reused (and shared!).
- Try beeswax cloth to cover cut fruit, sandwiches and bowls without lids. Here’s a nice blog post from “My Life Without Plastic” on beeswax cloth. I have some from a company called Bee’s Wrap, and am experimenting. Pros: it can be cleaned with soap and water, has natural anti-bacterial properties, can be shaped to cover almost anything and lasts about a year (a lot longer than Saran Wrap). Cons: it doesn’t seal as well as plastic. Also my family members seem to avoid it like the plague.
- For sandwiches, good old-fashioned wax paper bags work almost as well as ziplock bags.
- If you have a delicate fruit or vegetable that needs to be saved for a relatively long time:
- If possible, freeze it or;
- As a last resort, use plastic, and make sure when you’re done it’s recycled, reused, or properly disposed of.
Do you have reusable produce bags you recommend? How about storing food without plastic? Any tips?