Stopping plastic shopping bags

posted by Mike on November 4th, 2005

James and Abby Hannaford-RicardiThe Saints Francis & Therese Catholic Worker community here in Worcester worries about plastic shopping bags. They fill up landfills, clog storm drains, and litter the city.

The worst part is, nobody even needs them.

A few sturdy cloth bags can do the job as well as plastic (or paper) bags, and can be used over and over for years.

Making the transition requires two steps:

Step 1: Get the cloth bags. The Catholic Worker is making this step easy for dozens of Worcester shoppers. We’ll be giving out homemade canvas bags Nov. 9 to shoppers at the Big Y supermarket on Mayfield Street. These were made possible by generous donations and lots of sewing work.

(See also our instructions on sewing canvas shopping bags.)

Step 2: Change your shopping habits. This one isn’t too hard, either.

My parents live in a 2-story house, with the kitchen upstairs. My father made the transition from plastic bags by either using a couple of cloth bags for small shopping trips, or by putting groceries straight from his shopping cart into his car. He’s set up a sort of pantry downstairs by the garage, so he can move the groceries from the car to the pantry easily. He moves the groceries upstairs as needed.

At my own house, we always used some cloth bags, but always used plastic bags, too. Then we made a chart listing how many plastic bags we were using, how many paper bags, and how many times we used cloth bags.

Using plastic bags became a cause for shame. If you used a plastic bag, someone would look at the chart and say, “Hey, who used a plastic bag today?” It became competitive, and our plastic bag use quickly dropped to zero.

Here’s an article previewing the project in the Catholic Free Press: Canvas shopping bags to replace plastic.

Update: See our articles on making your own shopping bag out of canvas or old plastic bags.

Pictured: James Hannaford-Ricardi outside Big Y, rejoicing at his new canvas bag while his mother, Abby, looks on.

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