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The Best Eco-Friendly Alternative to Single-Use Plastic Bags

Written by: Hendrik

Category: Zero Waste, News

Updated on:


Perhaps the most alarming feature of plastic waste is how quickly it builds up. Yes, it has made our lives easier and somewhat safer if you think about helmets and mobile phones, but it has left an imprint on the environment that will be seen forever.

In the first ten years of the 21st century, we have already produced more plastic compared to the previous century. With the steady rise of fast food culture and the disposable lifestyle, we are now very literally swimming in plastic.

Plastic pollution leads to many problems. It can block drains and sewers, causing flooding during heavy rains. Toxins from plastic substances buried in landfills can also leech into and contaminate groundwater. Despite its many uses and advantages, plastic destroys life – human and animal alike.

What is the problem with plastic?

There are many reasons why plastic creates so many issues for us. Here are a few of them:

1. It takes tons of energy to make single-use plastics. The plastics industry makes up eight percent of the whole world’s oil production. For every 1kg of plastic bags made 6 kg of carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere. It may not seem like a lot, but the figures add up pretty quickly.

2. Plastic lasts forever! It doesn’t decompose like the food that you carry it with. When plastic breaks down, it makes little copies of itself called microplastics that retain many of its harmful qualities. Microplastics find their way into water sources and get ingested by marine life. Slowly, they make their way up the food chain until they reach the most fearsome life form on earth – humans.

3. Plastics break down into potentially harmful substances. Some chemicals added to plastics have been reported to disrupt hormones in the body and even cause cancer.

4. It’s harmful to wildlife. We’ve all seen pictures of seagulls wearing plastic bags and sea turtles being choked by six-pack ring plastics. The sad reality is that many of us continue to let this happen without any remorse or sense of responsibility.

plastic bags

Where is Plastic?

A more fitting question would be, “Where is no plastic?” If you didn’t already know, there is a huge pile of garbage twice as big as Texas, called the Gyre, right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Worldwide there are 5 gyres. It’s mostly made up of – gasp – plastic! It’s sitting right there, getting bigger by the minute. Thankfully there is one team, The Ocean Clean Up Project, that is doing everything in its power to clean our mess up.

Thinking about ditching the plastic bags, straws, and water bottles now? Good for you! But hold on a minute, because there’s one more thing that you may not know yet: plastic is everywhere.

Here are a few everyday items that contain plastic:

Coffee cups. Lined with plastic to keep your coffee warm and the outside of your cup dry.

Milk cartons. Made with waxed cardboard, which is 20% plastic and 80% paper.

Sanitary pads, diapers, and baby wipes. Anything waterproof has a plastic lining inside.

Food packaging. Even cardboard food boxes are interwoven with plastic to keep the products dry and free from pests. It’s a very effective method for maintaining good hygiene, but there simply has to be a better way.

Teabags. These are sealed with a type of plastic called polypropylene.

Clothing. Synthetic fibers such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic are all made up of plastic.

Glitter. Yes, it’s made of plastic! You may want to rethink your child’s art project.

Stickers. Again, something you give your children to play with. Even the stickers used on produce contain a bit of plastic. If you live near a farmer’s market, you’d be so much better off buying fresh, non-stickered produce.

How can we stop plastic pollution?

The solution, of course, to plastic pollution is glaringly simple:

Reuse plastic.

Stop making single-use plastic.

Find eco-friendly alternatives.

The implementation across all countries, though, might not be as simple. There is so much plastic everywhere that it’s almost impossible to avoid them all, but that doesn’t mean we can stop trying. Small steps like bringing your own bag to the store can help you save 50-100 bags a year.

What is the best replacement for plastic bags?

So what to use instead of plastic bags? Here are ten items that you can easily integrate into your life.

You can get this and other items on Earthhero with a 10% discount if you type in ZEROWASTEMAN at checkout.

1. Backpack

Most of us already have one at home, and if you don’t, there’s a huge variety available. You don’t have to buy another backpack just for grocery shopping. An old one will do just fine as long as it’s clean. You can also buy a secondhand backpack if you really want to buy one.

You can bring it anywhere hands-free!
If you have one with tons of compartments, you can separate your personal care items from the food to prevent contamination in case of spillage.

It may be heavy.
You must remember to bring it before leaving for the store.

2. Reusable + recycled tote bag

This classic bag usually comes in a simple, sleek design that’s easy to fold up and bring anywhere. Many tote bags are made of all-natural and recyclable materials. However, most tote bags on the market are made from virgin materials, which aren’t the most environmentally friendly. Except for this one.

If you buy a new tote made from a hundred percent virgin materials, it’s going to be all-natural for sure, but you need to reuse it again and again to offset the environmental impact produced by manufacturing it. Better yet, look for totes made with recycled materials or just buy a used one.

Light and easy to carry. You can stash one in the car, one in the stroller and have one in the kitchen drawer for easy access.

Not always waterproof.
You must remember to bring it before leaving for the store.

3. Jute bag

Jute is a natural fiber that is plastic-free and durable. Organic cotton can also be used to make a natural fiber bag, but the resources needed to produce one may not be worth it. Make sure you’re purchasing from a socially responsible source, especially if you’re buying a new bag. You may be better off reusing old plastic bags rather than buying a questionably-made jute tote bag just because it “looks eco-friendly.”

Versatile and durable

Not waterproof. Water will decrease the jute’s strength and may also attract microorganisms.
Crease-resistant and bulky. It may be difficult to fold.

4. String bag

A string or mesh bag is ultra-lightweight yet capable of expanding to accommodate more volume. It also uses less material to produce, making it slightly more eco-friendly than other bags. One drawback, though, is that smaller items may fall through the gaps. You better throw in some mesh-produce bags for those.

Versatile and durable. Super light and easy to have on you all the time.

Not waterproof. Has holes.

5. Cardboard boxes

Though they may seem awkward, cardboard boxes are still a good alternative to plastic bags. When you get home, you can reuse them by storing unused clothing, books, or plates inside. Cardboard boxes can also hold your household trash instead of a garbage bag. Or, you could also just let your cats play with them.

Free in most supermarkets. Strong and durable. Recycled

Not waterproof. You won’t find them everywhere. Bulky.

6. Paper bag

Though it may seem like a paper bag is the best solution to our plastic bag dilemma, it’s not. Far from it. Single-use paper bags require energy to produce, similar to a plastic bag, but not as drastic. Though they are biodegradable, there are other far more sustainable alternatives to plastic bags.

Still, it’s safer to go with paper when you’re in a pinch and without a reusable bag.

Free in most supermarkets. Compostable and recyclable, if clean.

Not waterproof. Tears easily. Not the best alternative if you want to save the trees.

7. Onya bag

Onya is an Australia-based company that makes reusable bags using recycled PET bottles. They have several different options, including sandwich bags, produce bags, coffee cups, compostable trash bags, and even reusable shopping bags.

The best thing about Onya is getting a product that you know is certified made from recyclable material. When used correctly and consistently, this is one of the best alternatives to plastic bags.

Superstrong and small. Fits in your pocket.

Couldn’t find any.

8. Upcycled bags DIY

A fun and creative way to ditch disposable plastic bags? Make your own! Upcycle your old clothes, towels, bedsheets, or bags and make an eco-friendly bag tailored to your specifications. If you can’t sew for your dear life, you can also buy upcycled bags from a local seller or earthhero.

Fun and creative way to make your own bag.

Couldn’t find any.

9. Bike panniers

We all know that riding a bike is one sure way to reduce your environmental impact. Why not attach a reusable bike pannier to it and make your trip even more economically responsible?

Superstrong and lots of room.

Not everyone rides a bike. You have to remember to bring the pannier when you go out shopping for it to be an effective plastic bag alternative.

10. Canvas Bag

Canvas bags are traditional cotton bags. They come in a simple design that you can fold up and bring anywhere. Unlike jute bags, cotton canvas bags are more pliable and don’t lose their strength if they get wet. Just remember to wash your cotton bag now and then to prevent bacterial growth.

Superstrong and lots of room.

You may just forget it at home before you go shopping.

Are Bioplastics a better alternative?

Bioplastics are plastics mixed with biodegradable, renewable resources such as plant starches and wood fibers. They were meant to be a better alternative to single-use plastic bags, but there are downsides to using bioplastics.

First of all, they won’t degrade by themselves. They need to be transported to a special facility with the equipment to break them down. If left to rot by itself, it can take up to 1,000 years just like normal plastic. You can’t put it in with your recyclables or compost heap, either, because it will just contaminate the whole batch.

Bioplastics? Nah, we’re better off using compostable bags.

What about eco-friendly poly bags?

While there are a few different options for degradable bags most of them are what I would call greenwashing. If it feels like plastic just avoid it.

What is Greenwashing | The Zerowasteman explains

7 solutions to replace in your home today

1. Plastic water bottles. Use refillable bottles that you can bring anywhere. If you’re going to bring a plastic bottle around anyway, why not just buy a reusable one?

2. Single-use shopping bags. There are so many options available for reusable bags! Give one a try and see which one fits your lifestyle.

3. Plastic produce bags. You can buy reusable mesh produce bags that last for a long time.

4. Disposable straws. Many places around the world have banned single-use straws. It’s time to ditch the straw altogether or get a metal straw if you really must have one.

5. Plastic cutlery from takeout boxes. When ordering out, you can tell the restaurant to leave out the plastic cutlery. Make better choices, everyone.

6. Plastic sandwich bags. Silicone bags are reusable, washable, and much more durable than plastic ones.

7. Food packaged in plastic. Choose a plastic-free alternative. Many companies are growing more aware of their environmental impact and are looking to minimize their carbon footprint. Keep an eye out for those.

You can find solutions to all of these at Earthhero with a 10 % discount code ZEROWASTEMAN at checkout.

The recent years have seen marked growth in science and technology, but mankind still can’t seem to get the plastic problem to go away. With the threat of global warming on our necks, scientists and engineers might find the solution someday soon. But if we’re speaking honestly here, the damage has already been done. Many effects of plastic waste are irreversible, including its effects on wildlife. Hopefully, we’ll find some way to steer ourselves in the right direction.

Until then we can do our part and share this information with our friends and family to pass on this knowledge.

Thank you for being a zerowasteman/woman.

How long does it take for a plastic bag to decompose?

Plastic bags undergo decomposition over varying durations, typically ranging from 10 to 1,000 years, contingent upon the prevailing environmental conditions.

Are plastic bags recyclable?

Plastic bags possess recyclable properties; however, their disposal via curbside bins is generally unsuitable. The recycling process entails the conversion of plastic bags into pellets through chipping, enabling their reprocessing for the creation of new bags.

Can plastic bags be reused?

Plastic bags exhibit varying decomposition timelines, typically spanning from 10 to 1,000 years, contingent upon environmental conditions. Moreover, they offer the versatility of multiple reuses, serving purposes such as lining trash cans, packing lunches, and pet waste disposal. The act of reusing plastic bags not only aids in waste reduction but also prolongs their lifespan before eventual recycling or proper disposal.

Are there any regulations regarding the use of plastic bags?

The usage of plastic bags in the United States is subject to regulations. Although there is presently no nationwide plastic bag fee or ban in place, numerous states, territories, and cities have independently implemented their own regulatory measures.

Photo of author

Hendrik Kaiser

I've studied biology and lived for 3 years on an off-grid permaculture farm. I love kitesurfing and keeping my body healthy and fit. Hence, I care so much about keeping our environment clean and being as zero waste as possible. Being a zerowasteman is a superpower everyone has inside of themselves, and I want to teach you how you can unleash it.

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