Viewpoint

Be daring: go bagless

linda@ greengroundswell.comOctober 11, 2012 

— The other day, I noticed a small yellow sign taped to the checkout stand customer shelf at the Cookie Crock grocery market in Cambria. It stated a countywide single-use plastic bag ban would become effective Oct. 1. It went on to say the store could no longer provide single-use plastic bags and would need to charge 10 cents for a paper bag. This came as no surprise to me as I had followed the news about the bag ban.

I commented on the sign, and the checkout clerk offered me a free bag made out of sturdier plastic emblazoned with the Cookie Crock logo and mentioned it was washable. I thanked her but declined stating we already had a collection of reusable bags.

I overhead a shopper wondering aloud what she would use to line her kitchen trash can. On account of being with my college-age son and not wanting to embarrass him by accosting other shoppers, I refrained from directing her to the blog post I had posted that very morning, “Kitchen Trash Bags — Green Alternatives.” But I’ll share an abbreviated version here:

When did we start feeling the need to line our kitchen trash cans with paper or plastic bags? Was it the 1930s when the first American supermarket opened and customers carried their goods home in paper bags? Maybe it began when Union Carbide starting selling Glad garbage bags in the 1960s. How about the 1970s when plastic grocery bags were introduced as an alternative to paper bags?
What do people do with plastic grocery bags after the groceries are unloaded and put away?

If you Google “ways to reuse plastic grocery bags,” one of the top responses will be as a trash can liner, especially for kitchen trash cans. As more government agencies, like our own county, ban single-use plastic bags, those who reuse them to line their kitchen trash cans are faced with a the question: what to use instead? This is an opportunity to search for a green alternative.

Plastic bags are made from fossil fuels and use energy throughout their life cycle. Paper bags are made from trees and manufacturing them generates greenhouse gases and pollution. Slightly greener alternatives to buying standard plastic kitchen trash bags would be to purchase 100 percent recycled plastic bags or 100 percent recycled paper bags.

Why purchase a bag just to fill it up with trash and throw it away? There’s another alternative: Go with the free option and skip the trash can bag — go bagless.

We were in the paper bag camp and reused paper grocery bags for kitchen trash. When we switched to reusable bags for grocery shopping, we were faced with the question of what to use for our kitchen trash. After a brief flirtation with buying paper bags, we decided to take a leap and just go without bags. Prevailing comments online about unlined kitchen trash cans tended to mention the “yuckiness” factor. We decided to go forward anyway.

Our house is equipped with a trash compactor. We never compacted trash but used to place a paper bag for trash inside it. Once we decided to go bagless, we purchased a plastic 21-gallon trash can at Cambria Hardware for less than $10 and placed it in the trash compactor.

We compost our fruit and vegetable scraps so that isn’t an issue. That left meat packaging and bones, greasy paper towels, and the like. We turned to our packaging collection of used bread bags, cereal box liners, frozen pea bags, toilet paper wrapping, etc. Messy or wet garbage gets wrapped in previously used packaging before going in the kitchen trash can. This method will work for those who don’t compost fruit and vegetable scraps or don’t use a garbage disposal.

The trash can does need to be cleaned but not as often as we thought. The trash can is small and easily fits in the kitchen sink. A laundry room sink or even bathtub would work too. With a little water and green cleaner, the trash can cleaning task is accomplished quickly and painlessly. It’s just not that icky.

With a little extra care, kitchen trash bags and liners can be eliminated, which saves money and is a green alternative to bags.

Email Linda Poppenheimer (“The Unlikely Environmentalist”) at linda@greengroundswell.com, or go to her website at www.greengroundswell.com.

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