In 2005, only 5.2 percent of U.S. plastic bags were recycled, according to the EPA. Now, in a move against global warming as well as overflowing landfills, San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags by supermarkets, drug stores and other big retailers (ninety percent of grocery bags are made of non-biodegradable polyethylene, whose production consumes petroleum and natural gas and releases CO2 into the atmosphere). And Ikea, which has used 70 million plastic shopping bags a year in the U.S., is now charging 5 cents per bag, donating the proceeds to American Forests.
One of my favorite and most enduring gifts came from a thoughtful cousin a few years ago: She sent a set of six plain cotton canvas tote bags in various sizes. Just having a plethora by the door makes it easy to grab them when heading out to the grocery store, pharmacy, farmers’ market or the gym. I don’t always remember, but I try to make a habit of tucking a bag into a pocket or purse whenever I go out. One motivator: getting 10 cents’ credit (up from 5 cents, last year!) for every bag I bring and fill at Whole Foods.
Organic cotton canvas totes in natural ($9) or black ($10) are available at www.ecobags.com, and they get cheaper if you buy 3 or more. They also sell the archetypal French string mesh shopping bag, which scrunches up into a bare fistful, expands to hold a basketball, and never goes out of style. In “fiesta” colors, $10 each, $47 for five.
Some other ideas:
Colorful round, collapsible market baskets woven by a fair trade cooperative in Ghana, $29 at www.globalexchange.com
Elegant cotton totes, embroidered in subtle paisleys by women’s cooperatives in India, $29-39 at www.worldofgood.com, a member of the Fair Trade Federation.