Protecting Our Beloved Puget Sound: One Bag at a Time
One recent sunny day, my daughter and I headed for Golden Gardens to make the most of the afternoon. We packed a picnic and settled in near the creek for an afternoon of digging and exploring. And picking up plastic bags. Yuck! But it was a good reminder of why Seattle’s new plastic bag ban is important.
Here in the Puget Sound, we are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so much water. However, that gives us a specialty responsibility to take care of the water – our ocean – as well. By discontinuing the use of plastic bags for our groceries and retail items, we are taking a huge step in the right direction of protecting our beloved Puget Sound.
I don’t know anyone that would intentionally throw a plastic bag into the ocean. But I have definitely seen them escape – from the back of the garbage truck, the hand of a child, the mouth of the crow that stole it right out of my stroller. Plastic bags have an amazing way of catching the wind and sailing just out of reach. And when they eventually land, it is often in the water or in someplace that will carry them to a body of water with the next big rain.
Plastics in the ocean are a huge threat to ocean health, which in turn threatens our own health. Animals like sea turtles, whales, fish and sea birds mistake them for jellyfish and other edibles, gobbling them up. Since the plastics don’t digest, the animals may feel full, but in actuality they will slowly starve to death. As none of us wants to slowly starve sea animals, especially the fish on which so many people rely for sustenance, Edmonds, Bellingham, Mukilteo and Seattle have joined cities across the world in banning plastic shopping bags.
Changes at Home
Grocery stores, retail shops and convenience stores in Seattle stopped offering plastic bags to their customers on July 1, with the exception of produce, bulk foods and meat bags. Shoppers now have three choices: going bagless, using reusable tote bags or paying five cents for a paper bag. Shoppers who use Basic Food cards will be exempt from the five cent fee for paper bags.
Of those three options, reusable totes are my preferred choice. While bagless is fine for one item, it certainly won’t do for most shopping trips. Paper bags work in a pinch, but I would prefer not to pay for them, would rather conserve resources, and am never that pleased with paper bags in our rainy climate. Reusable totes have my vote because I can buy ones that meet my needs, wash them easily, and use them for a long time. There are so many choices now, and they are much more stylish than plastic bags.
If you are in the market for new reusable tote bags, take a minute to think about the kind of shopping you do most. It’s worth it to invest in a few good quality bags that you like and will want to use. Forget that pile of free tote bags that you’ve been given as door prizes unless you really like them. Purchase a few bags that you really like and find to be usable. This will help you use them!
To grocery shop for a family of four, I need eight to 10 good bags. I love solid, durable, plain canvas bags with reinforced handles. They are strong, which means I can sling a lot of groceries without worrying that they will tear. They are roomy. They wash and dry easily without bleeding. I also like to have two or three bags made from recycled plastic that are rectangular with a reinforced bottom. This style is terrific for cereal boxes, soy milk containers, crackers and anything else that comes in a box. They wash reasonably well, are very inexpensive and easy to find.
To remind myself to bring the grocery bags to the store, I have started putting “grocery bags” as the first item on my shopping list. I also stuck a post-it note to my front door that said “Bags?” until I started remembering them more faithfully.
I’m just getting the hang of having tote bags with me for other purposes, like a quick trip to the drug store or corner market. I’m having the most luck with colorful, lightweight polyester bags than fold up or can be tucked into a stuff sack that is small enough to fit in my purse. I’ve started stashing these everywhere – purse, backpack, glove compartment, diaper bag, stroller basket, bike basket. Being small and lightweight, they don’t take up much room and I always have them when I need them. Designers have been having a lot of fun with these recently, so you can find ones with modern prints or children’s themes or even ones that fold up to look like a strawberry.
What About the Other Places We Use Plastic Bags?
There are other places where you might need to make some adjustments now that the bag ban has started. For example, some people use grocery bags to dispose of dirty diapers or dog’s droppings or just for the household trash. What to do?
For smaller needs, like diapers and dogs, look around for other plastic bags that you are currently throwing away. In our house these include bread bags, bun bags, cereal bags, and produce bags. You will be pleasantly surprised at how nicely a diaper fits into a bread bag. Newspaper bags are great for walking the dog.
Depending on how much trash your household produces, you may be able to use these smaller bags as well. This is especially true if you are composting your food scrapes in with your yard waste and if you have familiarized yourself with all of the recycling options that we have in this region. If that won’t cut it for your family, you can still purchase and use trash bags (including pet waste bags), as they are not included in the plastic bag ban.
Making the Connection
Want to help your kids understand the connection between plastic bags and ocean health? Take them to Pacific Science Center to see their “Whale of a Problem” exhibit. The exhibit is a collection of plastics that recreates a gray whale’s last meal from the Puget Sound, based on items found in a real whale’s belly in April, 2010. The whale’s last meal included many human-made items, including more than 20 plastic bags.
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To learn more about the Pacific Science Center’s “A Whale of a Problem" exhibit, visit http://pacscilife.blogspot.com/2010/07/whale-of-problem.html.
How to Make a T-Shirt Tote Bag
This fun and simple project is one that you and your children can complete in less than an hour. It’s a great way to repurpose a favorite T-shirt that your child has outgrown or that concert T-shirt that you aren’t ready to part with! (See the photos to the left.)
- Salad plate (kid’s T-shirt) or dinner plate (adult T-shirt)
- Straight pins
- Sewing machine or needle for hand sewing
Creating the Handles:
- Cut off the sleeves. Be sure to leave the seam that joins the sleeve to the body of the T-shirt. This will make the handles stronger.
- Measure three to four fingers’ width across the shoulder of the T-shirt, starting from the edge you just cut. Mark that place with a pen. Repeat on the other shoulder. This gives you the width of your handles.
- Place a plate between the two pen marks. Trace the plate so that you have a line for opening up the neck.
- Cut on the line.
- Ta da! Now you have handles.
Finishing the Bag:
- Turn the T-shirt inside out.
- Pin the bottom edge of the T-shirt closed.
- Using your sewing machine or a needle and thread, sew the bottom of the bag closed. Sew another seam ¼ to ½ inch away from the first seam to reinforce the bottom of the bag.
- Turn the T-shirt right side out. Your bag is complete!