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Plastic free produce. My favorite Rethink string bag (it’s like the Tardis – it looks small but the inside is huge). Cucumber without shrink wrapping.  Fruit and vegetables in Rethink produce bags.  Please note the irritating non-biodegradable sticker on the mandarin, I still can’t manage a  totally plastic free shop, but I do my best to avoid it.

It’s that time of the year again when resolutions are big and good intentions abound.  A New Year and people are encouraged to break bad habits, make lifestyle changes and follow through on promises to change for the better.  Why not make a simple change to reduce your plastic consumption?  Ban the bag has become a strong movement over the last few years and one that seems to finally be getting some support from the general public as reusable bags become commonly available.  Reusable bags are now the norm for many people heading to the supermarket.  I am thrilled to see the change because single use plastic is a slow moving disaster in which we are drowning without being aware of it.  It is everywhere including isolated beaches.  We take it for granted that everything has to come in plastic these days.  We have bought into the idea that everything must be sealed for your protection.  Hygiene is impossible, we are told, without cardboard boxes being sealed in plastic wrap. Our fruit and veges need to be plastic wrapped we are told to prolong the shelf life.  It wasn’t always like this.  My Grandma and Grandpa managed without plastic, and they didn’t wring their hands and wail that they didn’t have supermarket bags to use as bin liners.  There is a future without plastic – just like there was a past without plastic.

Plastic single use supermarket bags are on the out, and boot liners are gone from Mitre10, but single use produce and bulk bin bags are still a problem.  When I began this journey I tried to go plastic free for lent. I figured that going without plastic packaging would be hard but I never imagined that it would be impossible to achieve at the shops I was habitually using.  I was struck the first time I walked into the supermarket (full of good intentions) just how big the plastic problem is.  I walked in to the fruit and vegetable aisle and was immediately confronted with a sea of plastic trays containing pumpkin and cabbage halves sealed with cling film, spring onions in plastic sheathes, apples in plastic bags, lettuces in plastic bags, tomatoes and strawberries in plastic punnets, and it just goes on and on.  Even the loose fruit had plastic stickers on each individual piece, and the only way to get some home was to either take them loose or put them in single use plastic produce bags.  The bulk bins were the same.  There were no alternatives available and everyone was happily using and consuming the plastic without a second thought.

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Rethink bulk bin bags in action.

I was deeply confronted by our plastic dependence as a result of that attempt at a plastic free lent.  So much so that I researched and went shopping for alternatives.  I found them at Commonsense Organics, but they are available online, and many different shops.  I purchased several sets of Rethink organic cotton reusable produce bags and a set of reusable bulk bin bags.  I was impressed with the rethink brand because they are biodegradable.  I didn’t want to replace single use plastic produce bags with reusable plastic netting bags. For me the organic cotton seemed like a better option. I also found some produce bags made from old net curtains at a local farmers market and they have been great too.  Obviously you could even make your own.  I have saved a variety of bags including a Soap Nuts bag, and a fabric rice  bag.  I have also been given a few.  I use them every shop with no trouble.  Printed sticky labels can be easily wrapped around the drawstrings.  I can’t recommend them enough.  They can also be used as delicate bags when you do your laundry.  I have had a large number of curious people approach me to ask where I got them from.  These people do want alternatives and they are far from alone.

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Examples from my collection.  Clockwise from top right; fabric rice bag with zipper; cherries in a re-purposed Soap Nut bag; a nylon mesh bag that I was gifted; one of the handmade bags I got from the farmers market; Rethink bulk bin bag; Rethink produce bag.

I think the problem is that most people just don’t know about the alternatives.  Some people will comment and criticize the plastic bag ban by saying that it doesn’t go far enough, or that it is pointless because there are still plastic wrapped cucumbers and plastic produce bags.  I don’t take that view however, I think big change of any kind is hard and that is why people resist it.  But it isn’t so hard to make small changes.  If you don’t want a plastic wrapped cucumber, you don’t have to buy it.  You can buy an unwrapped short cucumber instead, or you can grow your own.  If you don’t want to use plastic produce and bulk bin bags, rejoice!   There is good news.  There are alternatives and they are easy to use.  If you are frustrated by the endless sea of plastic packaging start making active choices to avoid it where possible, and if it is unavoidable take five minutes to write to the shop or manufacturer and tell them you would prefer an alternative.

I did exactly that at my local New World.  After I found reusable produce bags I was concerned that they are not really a visible option for people, or at least, not as visible as reusable shopping bags which are now found everywhere. I wrote to New World and suggested that they should consider stocking reusable produce bags in the produce aisle.  I told them about Rethink bags and a few other brands I had come across.  I told them that I had tried to avoid plastic packaging and found it hard to know where to begin.  The email took five minutes to write.  I have to admit that I didn’t expect much to come of it.  But a few days later I got an email reply.  They were thrilled to hear from me.  They had not heard of rethink or other brands of reusable produce bags, and thanked me for bringing them to their attention.  Better still, they said they thought it was a brilliant idea and told me to watch the produce aisle because after hearing from me they had ordered them and were planning a stand of them!  I was thrilled to say the least.  A month later, a new display popped up with various sizes of reusable produce bags and also string carry bags.  One 5 minute email made a difference in my local supermarket.  One small but significant change and as a result it is easier for people to opt for an alternative to single use plastic produce bags.

So this New Year why not get some reusable produce bags and make a step on the journey to reduce your plastic consumption.

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