Why are plastic shopping bags so bad and what can I do with the ones I have?



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    Each time we check out at the grocery store, we are faced with that question: plastic or paper? We have all been convinced of the effect on our forests when timber is extracted for paper production. Plastic, however, is synthetic and the negative effects come in the amount of time it takes for plastic to decompose once it is tossed in the landfill. Recent alternatives have included cloth bags that most stores sell and some give you a discount on your grocery bill for using. Some plastic bags are now made of recycled materials or promise to decompose quicker.

    It is obvious that we do not want plastics filling up our landfills. However, there are some other negative effects of the plastic bags. Even with best intentions, some bags get into the natural environment. They are blown away or lost during transport (fall out of a garbage truck). Some of these bags make their way to the oceans where a very tragic event occurs. The plastic bags end up in the water and hang in the shallows much as a jellyfish does. Some sea turtles (most of which are endangered species) feed on jellyfish. They mistake plastic bags as prey items and attempt to eat the plastic. The bag gets caught in their throat and may lead to suffocation and death.

    Other animals have been documented as entangled in plastic, including plastic bags. Some examples include marine mammals such as dolphins and manatees, birds, and aquatic turtles. The entanglement often leads to injury or death for the individual.

    Canvas alternative to plastic bags

    What to do with your bags

    Most people have a large collection of plastic grocery bags. It seems that we just keep shoving them into each other and the collection grows and grows! Here are a few suggestions of what you can do with some of the bags.


    Unfortunately many city recycling programs do not accept the plastic bags as part of your weekly recycling bin contents. However, most stores that pack in plastic bags also have recycling bins where they will collect your used bags. Dropping off your used bags when you return to the store is simple and helps the environment.

    Donate bags to a thrift store or yard sale

    Donate your plastic bags to a local thrift store or someone having a yard sale. This will save the store or person from having to purchase bags for the sale of their goods.

    Cat litterbags

    If you purchase special bags in which to depose of your cat litter, switch to using your plastic bags. Although the bags are thrown away, you are reusing the plastic before just tossing it. You also will save some money from having to purchase plastic bags for the same use.

    Garbage can liners

    Again, instead of buying special bags to line your small bathroom and office garbage cans, use the plastic bags you acquire while shopping. Reusing the bag is helping to protect the environment. If your garbage does not soil the bag, dump the contents into a large bag and use it more than once.

    Packing material

    Plastic bags provide good padding for items to be shipped or moved. Wrap glass or fragile items within the bags. Use bags to provide patting within a box for loose fitting items.

    Make bracelets

    You can cut the plastic bags into strips (or cut around in a swirl to make a longer “string”) and use them like yarn or floss to make friendship bracelets. Tell your friends that you used plastic bags to make the bracelets, thus helping to keep the bags out of the landfill!

    Stuffing for decorative dolls

    Utilize your extra bags as stuffing material for decorative dolls or stuffed animals. However, do not use bags if the doll or toy will be given to a small child or dog. The plastic bag may become exposed from chewing or use and may end up in the mouth of the child or dog.

    Lunch bags

    Use a plastic bag to carry your lunch. This is a good alternative to a paper bag and will keep moisture from entering your backpack or brief case.

    Drawer liners

    If you are looking for something to line the drawers of a dresser or cabinet, use some of the plastic bags you have around the house. Cut the bag to size and tack down with double-sided tape or other tacking material. The plastic bag will create a surface that can be wiped down and will protect the wood below.


    The huge influx of plastic into the world has been damaging to the natural environment and many of its inhabitants. When shopping, use alternatives such as cloth bags. If you must choose plastic, ask the clerk to put as many items in one bag as possible and avoid double bagging if you will not travel far with the contents. Recycle or reuse the plastic bags that you already have at home. Now is the time that we must make such changes for the natural environment!

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