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The Plastic Bag Revolution Takes Hold: Reusable Bags Take The Lead

Updated on August 17, 2009

The end of the era of plastic bags is in sight - at least, at my local grocery store! Despite the protests of the plastic bag industry, it turns out that consumers have caught the wave and a sea change is underway in the area around Toronto, Canada.

The City of Toronto brought in new legislation that forced all retail grocers to charge 5 cents for each single-use plastic bag that they gave a customer for purchased groceries. The new law took effect on June 1, 2009. While some chains have been doing this for some time - like Price Chopper and Food Basics - this legislation forced the big local retailers including Walmart and Loblaw to also charge for each plastic bag.

You might not think that a small 5 cent fee would make much of a difference. After all, San Francisco was willing to ban bags completely in 2008. Ireland was willing to impose the equivalent of a 20 cent tax on each single use plastic bag since 2002. However, that 5 cents coupled with consumer awareness is making a huge difference.

How do I know? While the data isn't out yet, my own informal survey during my last shopping trip showed almost 100 per cent of shoppers with reusable bags in the checkout line, and only one shopper heading out the door with a cart of single use plastic bags. All this in just over 2 months of the new 5 cent fee.

Reusable Becomes Chic

Suddenly, reusable shopping bags and containers of all sorts are turning up all over the place.

Most stores are selling reusable shopping bags that recycle plastic in one form or another. Variations include plastic that has been spun into a cloth that is then sewn into bags. Other versions are using plastic in a more waterproof version: plastic sheets that are fused together to create a bag that won't leak. In fact, some retailers are so smart that their bags come with two sets of handles: one set that is short and allows the bag to be carried by hand; and, another set that allow the bag to be slung over the shoulder, freeing up the hands.

This isn't the only innovation in toting groceries. One national Canadian food retailer is selling hard plastic boxes with tote straps to carry home groceries. This system not only ensures that groceries can be sorted into appropriate containers right in the store, but also ensures that containers don't fall over in the car (like bags can do).

While many bags are just bags - nothing special - my local health food store has started stocking bags that are made of the same kind of nylon as hot air balloons. The bags are compact - you can drop one in your purse and still have room - and they come in a delightful range of colors and fabrics.

Who says that green has to be frumpy?

No Tears At The Disappearance of the Plastic Bag

As of 2009, Canadians were using 55 million plastic bags a week! That is the equivalent of just less than 2 bags for every man, woman and child in the country. At the same time, Americans were using just less than 2 billion in a single week - or 100 billion a year.

Because most bags are simply thrown away to become landfill, this actually means that Americans alone are throwing away the equivalent of 12 million barrels of oil. Even if those plastic bags are properly disposed of, they can easily become "urban tumbleweeds" that fowl waterways and beaches or kill wildlife through eating or entanglement. Bags are picked up by the wind from landfills and scattered everywhere.

So, as I watch a growing number of people bring their own re-usable bags to do their grocery shopping, I can't help but smile. It's perhaps one of the best success stories in the environmental movement in years. People have shown just how fast and how overwhelmingly we can change our minds and our habits.

Every step in the right direction is a good one.


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    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 5 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Hi, Imogen! Here's to more people becoming more aware of their impact on the planet - and more of us walking as softly as we can....

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      It's great that people are getting into the habit of using reusable bags - a little incentive goes a long way. Plastic bags are a menace both in landfill and when they get into waterways polluting our rivers and oceans, not to mention the environmental consequences of making plastics.

      Good hub!

    • profile image

      Tess Rousseau 8 years ago

      I have also noticed in stores that a great many people are indeed bringing their own bags, just as I do! I think that people are hopping on board! I sure hope that all these things keep on mushrooming.

    • MoniqueAttinger profile image

      MoniqueAttinger 8 years ago from Georgetown, ON

      Doc Snow - I have seen some ingenuity in my local stores. For instance, many of the smaller vendors in family owned business have gone to completely compostable bags! So, if I go into these stores and buy something (and forget my own bag), I get a "plastic" bag that has been made from corn resin. I then use it for my food scraps that go into our new "green" bins; the region where I live now picks up all food garbage and does municipal composting. Every spring, gardeners can go and pick up compost from the region for free! So, I do think that things are looking up... ;-)

      Jasmine - thanks for dropping by!

    • profile image

      Jasmine 8 years ago

      Great article. Also check out

    • Doc Snow profile image

      Doc Snow 8 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Perhaps we'll see something like that down here. Certainly we've seen a great many stores begin offering various recycled bags, though it sounds as if Canadian creativity has more choices available there.

      We have a collection of various totes acquired fairly randomly. I keep a couple in my car, and try to use them consistently, and not just for groceries, but for any small purchase. For serious shopping trips, we'll take a whole bunch from home. It's not that hard a habit to get into.