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Bring your own reusable bag!

September 17, 2014
By: Rachel Harvey


Stashing a few reusable tote bags in your car, purse, or bike basket for all shopping trips is an easy first step to cutting down on single-use plastics. Place a sticky note where you will see it if you need help remembering. iPhones can be set to offer a geographic-based reminder when you pull into the market parking lot.

Currently, all counties in the State of Hawai‘i, outside of Honolulu, boast a ban on single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter. O‘ahu will be the last county to enact a ban in July 2015. Bag fees and bans are becoming common place across the United States and the globe. Even China, where residents previously used up to 3 billion plastic bags daily, instituted a successful ban in 2008.

Here are some fast facts on the impacts of ditching the single-use bag habit.

  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion (online.wsj.com).
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store (www.reusablebags.com).
  • The world uses over 1.2 trillion plastic bags a year. That averages about 300 bags for each adult on the planet. That comes out to over one million bags being used per minute (e-voice.org.uk).
  • Most plastic bags don’t get recycled. In 2011, the category of plastics which includes bags, sacks, and wraps was recycled at about 11 percent (Epa.gov).
  • In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene bags will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade (www.reusablebags.com).
  • Disposable bags can cost cities up to 17 cents per bag for disposal. That figure does not include external costs quality of life issues, economic loss due to litter, and human health expenses (www.ncpa.org).
  • So called “Biodegradeable” plastic bags are still made of plastic, are designed to break into small pieces more rapidly, are equally dangerous in the marine environment (styrophobia.com), and have just been added to the Honolulu bag ban bill.
  • Paper bags, even recycled ones, also require a great deal of energy to produce as well as air and water pollution (www.huffingtonpost.com). Thus, we advise bringing your own resusable, durable bag whenever possible.

A few other tips...If you need to recycle plastic bags, grocery stores often have a bin out front for deposit. Plastic bags do not go in your municipal blue bin. You can also give a second life to these bags and other packaging, such as newspaper, bread, and tortilla bags, for refuse pickup around the house, yard, and beach park.


I bet you have some suitable tote bags around the house ready for action. Inexpensive totes can be purchased at most groceries or even the Salvation Army. You can also make a unique bag out of old t-shirts with no sewing required or pick up your own Plastic Free Hawai‘i tote bag online or at a Kōkua Hawai‘i Foundation outreach event.