How to reduce the use of plastic bags

Do you live in an area where plastic bags are taxed or banned?

More than 20 U.S. states and 150+ cities and counties have already banned plastic bags, and a growing number of countries around the world are also banning or taxing their use.

Why is this happening and how can you respond?

Why are plastic bags being banned or taxed?

Around 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year, but the average bag is used for just 12 minutes before being thrown away and only one in 200 is recycled. The billions of bags that end up as litter are harmful to wildlife, the natural environment and human health, as well as being very costly to clean up.

To find out more about the damage that plastic bags cause, read our article about the pitfalls of disposable plastic bags.

How can you cut your use of plastic bags?

There are a number of different strategies you can employ to cut down on the number of plastic bags you use and minimize their environmental impact. Which is the most effective?

We’ve ranked the ways of reducing your impact according to the hierarchy of ‘Refuse, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle’.

#1 Refuse plastic, take your own reusable bags

In the U.S., the average family accumulates 15 plastic bags on each trip to the grocery store. If they shop weekly, that’s 780 bags a year! (and some estimates are higher!)

Cut out plastic bags entirely by taking your own reusable shopping bags instead. There’s plenty of choice available; check out the top 8 alternatives here.

Choosing reusable bags can have the most impact of all – but be sure to select the most eco-friendly bag you can find that suits your needs.

#2 Refuse plastic, choose paper bags

Forgotten your reusable bag? If you have the option, choose paper bags rather than plastic to carry home your groceries. Although they take more energy to produce, paper bags can be easily recycled or composted, so they’re much less harmful to the environment after they have served their purpose.

Make sure to dispose of your paper bags carefully though; around 80 percent of all paper bags end up in landfill.

#3 Reuse your ‘single use’ plastic bags

They might be designed to be used just once, but there’s plenty of life left in most plastic bags after you’ve emptied out the groceries. If you find you have accumulated a few plastic bags, simply take them with you next time you visit the store and keep using them until they are no longer fit for the job.

#4 Repurpose your plastic bags

Alternatively, find new uses for your plastic bags: Use them to line the trash can, to pick up after your dog, or even use them as lightweight packaging material in place of bubble wrap or packing peanuts. Each time you reuse a plastic bag – even if it’s for a different purpose – you’re reducing its environmental impact.

#5 Recycle plastic bags

It’s unavoidable; sometimes we all end up with a few plastic bags. When they’ve been used and reused and they’re at the end of their life, the only remaining option is to recycle them.

Most curbside recycling collection systems can’t handle plastic bags, so you might need to take them to a drop-off recycling location instead.  Most large grocery chains, home improvement stores and retailers have plastic bag recycling collection bins, so take them back there to make sure they are processed correctly and don’t end up in landfill.

Refuse plastic – choose your alternative

The best option is always to choose a reusable bag. Make sure you take your time and choose a good bag that will last you. The more times you can use it the more environmentally friendly it will be. 

And remember, if you don’t have your reusable bag with you and you need to use plastic bags, you can minimize the environmental impact by reusing, repurposing and recycling them.