I am very very excited to be launching my sustainability challenge series today! I’ve been feeling a little out of it creatively and the thought of doing this with you guys puts me back on my game in terms of blogging and I really hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Let me explain how it’s going to work…
The idea is that we’ll all complete the challenge each month and add the next month’s challenge onto that, ending the year with 12 major steps to living a more sustainable life. Each challenge in and of itself is a small step you can take personally that will add up to something bigger.
This challenge is also judgment-free. If you mess up or forget something, that’s ok, just try again the next day. This challenge is about doing our best and making attainable changes that we will actually stick to.
If you share the challenges with your friends and family and get them to join, our ripple effect could be, potentially, pretty big.
January’s sustainability challenge is to not use any single-use plastic bags for the entire month.
That includes shopping bags, produce bags, ziplock bags, and any other single-use plastic bags that you might use on a daily basis.
Out and about, I’ve pretty much mastered always carrying totes in my car so I can use them in CVS, the grocery store, and even Target when I remember. In the last two months, I’ve taken that a step further but always returning my produce bags to the totes in my car so I don’t end up forgetting them at the grocery store anymore. My town also banned single-use plastic bags at stores which makes things even easier.
At home, I find this challenge personally more difficult than the water bottle challenge because we still use a fair amount of ziplock bags even though I’ve been trying to cut down. But I’m committing to it and bought a few things to make it easier on the home-front.
Products to replace single-use plastic bags
Food Huggers: I bought this set of silicone covers on a friend’s recommendation to cover lemons, onions, bananas, and any other half-eaten/used fruits and veggies. That is where I use ziplock bags the most so I think these will make the biggest difference in our house. Sidebar, I did a partnership with Tupperware in December and they gave me this apple keeper. I put an apple in it 3 weeks ago and forgot about it… and it’s still fresh. No joke! So that’s another good option.
Stasher Bags: We have already started using silicone Stasher bags instead of ziplocks for snacking on-the-go. I love that they can be thrown in the dishwasher for easy-cleaning. They can get pricey if you’re buying a lot so this seems like a good, more affordable option.
Freezer Storage: Another place where we tend to use larger ziplock storage bags is in the freezer. I’ll use them to store frozen bananas and berries for smoothies as well as things like meat and bread that we plan to eat in the future.
Reusable Produce Bags: I’ve been using these for a few months and love them. I like that they’re color-coded and that they come in all sizes. We’ve ended up using them for toting food in the car on road trips and for organizing toys and diapers when we travel.
Give a Sh*t Dog Poop Bags: I have yet to figure out a solution for picking up dog poop without using a single-use bag but at least these are 100% compostable so I feel better about using them.
The only other place where I think single-use plastic is kind of necessary is trash bags. I buy the ones made from recycled materials but you can buy compostable bags for trash too.
Note: The point of this challenge isn’t to throw away the single-use bags you already have. Use what you have and don’t waste it. If you do use a Ziplock, try to reuse it as many times as possible!
I read 10 terrifying facts about plastic bags on biologicaldiversity.org and decided to copy and paste them here. If these don’t sell you on the challenge, I don’t know what will… You can read another interesting article packed with more knowledge here. I also found this Nat Geo article about Kenya’s plastic-bag ban to be depressing but fascinating. Give it a read if you have a few minutes. We might not be changing the world with these challenges, but we’re doing something!
10 Facts About Single-use Plastic Bags
1. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.
2. It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive one mile.
3. The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
4. According to Waste Management, only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that the average family only recycles 15 bags a year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter.
5. Up to 80 percent of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land.
6. At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean.
7. 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.
8. One in three leatherback sea turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs.
9. Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes.
10. It takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately, the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.
So are you in? Do you have any other tips? Let me know!
Very cool Julia! I have to admit, I didn’t participate in the water bottle challenge, but I would like to be onboard for this series. I feel like we all “care” about the environment but don’t always show up for it in our actions.
I really like the idea of committing gradually in new ways over a year. Do you think the freezer bag option you linked could also double as everyday bags for snacks, etc.?
So glad to hear you’re on board this time. I haven’t bought the freezer bags yet so I can’t speak from personal experience but yes, I think they could double as snack bags.
I just went on Amazon to check out some products and found this cool “starter pack” which has different sized baggies, beeswax wraps, and silicone lids for a decent price. It seems to have mostly positive reviews and might be a good way to try out a few different products without breaking the bank:
The one single use plastic bag I have yet to solve for: dog poop bags! Any ideas on how to solve for that one? How are you tackling that with Boots?
I just added in a note about the dog poop bags we use. They are single-use but 100% compostable!
Do you compost?! That would make a great post!!
Unfortunately compostable items aren’t really beneficial if they are thrown in the trash, so aren’t a realistic solution for anyone who doesn’t compost. The compostable items would still go to a landfill where they either don’t break down, or break down and still produce greenhouse gas. Compostable does not equal biodegradable.
I’m glad to see you encouraging your reader to do this! I’ve been trying hard to reduce my plastics for a while and while some things like water bottles have caught on, other things like reusable sandwich bags and bamboo silverware still get me odd looks from people. But we won’t make a difference until a critical mass of people adopt these practices.
I’m ok with odd looks if you are! I hope this is this start for some others too.
me too! who cares. lead the change! I purchased inexpensive flatware for my office on amazon. And rather than use keurig k cups, the only coffee maker we have at work, I purchased a travel coffee press (I still use the hot water from the keurig machine–and I tried the reusable filter, but was told those are not compatible with the office’s commercial machine!!!!).
There are reusable K-cups now! We have a Keurig at home, so my husband just puts whatever coffee he wants into the reusable K-cups (I’m not a coffee drinker)
I would like to switch to something like stasher bags, but I’ve found the cost prohibitive. I’d be curious to see how those and the reusuable freezer bags hold up over time. I’m not really sure why people think you can’t reuse ziplock bags. I find that the brand name bags hold up well to reuse; I’ve been using the same box of bags for almost two years now. I just hand wash them when I’m done and restore them back in their box. I’m sure it’s easier for people to just throw them away, but with a little care I think it could still be a sustainable option to reuse.
That’s a good point, Emily. I reuse mine a few times but never thought to wash them for some reason.
I saw one reader’s comment about dog poop bags and I was wondering the same thing. Also what do you do for trash bags in your house? I’m excited to try this challenge!
I added in info about both of these things! I use compostable dog poop bags and my only exception to this challenge is kitchen trash bags. I use the recycled ones but I don’t know how to do better than that because the compostable ones are super thin and trash spills out everywhere.
Not sure if this is the best solution, but it’s at least using less plastic bags! For cat owners (or anyone with a small trash bin in their bathroom) I recommend biodegradable or compostable bags on Amazon. They’re very thin, so you have to be careful of “seepage” and avoid combining them in with your regular garbage because those are typically plastic & defeats the purpose. Speaking of! I haven’t tried them yet, but Hefty makes a compostable bag in different sizes and there’s also a company called Hippo Sak that makes plant-based bags. Would love to hear more kitchen bag alternatives!
My dad and his wife use the compostable bags for trash but they’re super thin and things often poke through them which is definitely an issue. But never thought to try them for smaller trash cans. Good to know about Hefty too, will check those out!
I’m in, Julia! I’m so glad to see you added a note about compostable dog poop bags. My area participates in green bin recycling (where your food waste is placed in a tall lidded green bin and the city composts it) and they allow dog waste in those little compostable bags! The green bin was the single greatest thing for my family to be able to cut down on our garbage. A family of four and one dog and we throw out less than 3 garbage bags every two weeks thanks to all the recycling we do.
Switching to no plastic bags should be easy too since there’s so many cute totes out there! The L.L.Bean totes are perfect for big grocery trips! xx Rox-Anne
I love this! I received some cool reusable bags in my Christmas stocking and have been telling all of my friends about them.
I think a hashtag similar to what you did for the water bottle challenge would be cool! This way we can follow and urge each other on!
Agreed! I’m going to keep #LSWaterBottleChallenge because I love the idea that it all started with a water bottle. I’ll talk more about the hashtag on Instagram tonight too. Can’t wait to see what you guys post!
I love this idea and am definitely on board. Admittedly, plastic bag usage is one area where I can use some HUGE improvement. Question for the group: does anyone else get grocery pick-up or delivery, and how do you handle the plastic bag situation? This is a big time-saver for me, but I do hate how they use way too many plastic bags when delivering my groceries.
I do it sometimes with Prime/Whole Foods and they use paper bags. I’ve started writing notes to the shoppers about not putting fruit/veggies in produce bags and they (usually) listen!
I saw this and thought “Great idea” and then thought “I’m on a no-spend January”. But if I need to replace anything, I’ll replace it with a reusable product.
I saw this last month on IG – I have been thinking I would try making these beeswax food wraps: https://www.bhg.com/crafts/easy/beeswax-food-wraps/
I’ve heard those are great. I haven’t tried them yet but definitely report back if you like them!
I have been pretty neurotic about this from a groceries standpoint….always have my resusable bags AND mesh product bags. If I forget my mesh bags, I just throw produce in the cart without a bag (do you really need a bag for grapes that are already in a plastic bag? do you really need to put potatoes, peppers, cucumbers in bags?). I do however, REALLY need work with ziplock bags, so I am in and will work on this goal. Ordering the apple saver now….but the stasher bags get pretty bad reviews. You aren’t having any issues w/ them?
Love this! Related to ziploc bags and an item we cut out of our kitchen last year — plastic/saran wrap. I got converted to Bee’s Wrap and really love it! I bought our first set of it in February of last year, and it’s just NOW starting to feel worn. Still works great though! https://www.beeswrap.com/
Lilly Pulitzer has GREAT, giant – and super cute – reusable bags that hold quite a bit of groceries. I’m saying like an entire weeks worth in like 1-2.
We’ve been using them for years, they’ve held up, and we’ve been able to limit our plastic bag use to barely any.
I have one of those! So funny. I use it every time I shop. Best bag ever.
so you really inspired me with this last month.. I am doing really well with minimizing my ziplock bags (less than 10 for December when I used to use that amount in a week).. I’m pretty good with bringing bags to stores… BUT, what about waste baskets? Like in the bathroom? What to use in those spaces? Any tips? 🙂
You could get the compostable bags! I oddly don’t use bags in my bathroom wastebaskets but if I did, that’s what I would use. I linked them above.
good idea- thanks!
Do you have any ideas for avoiding plastic bags when storing meat in the freezer? One area I always use ziplocks for is meat – I tend to buy large packages of chicken breasts or whatever, and then I freeze them in smaller/individual portions so avoid food waste (so I can defrost meat for one meal at a time). I haven’t yet found a reusable product that I feel safe freezing meat in – any ideas are appreciated!
In 2019, I committed to stop using plastic produce bags from the grocery store and dryer sheets. 2020 is the year I say goodbye to Ziploc bags. I got a bunch of Stasher bags for Christmas, so I’m in.
Julia, this challenge is a great reminder! I’m good about groceries and produce bags – but things like take out bags still get me! I haven’t gotten sandwich baggies in a long time – I use Tupperware to store those left over cut up veggies fruit that I previously used them for. I bought a box of these Lunchskins Recyclable & Sealable Paper Sandwich Bags (at Target or Whole Foods) which lasted me about a year. They’re not perfect, but they do seal, good for on the go, and are recyclable.
I need to check those out. Sounds like a good and easy solution for snack storage!
We use these paper snack bags for sending in breakfast snacks to daycare. Since my son brings breakfast most days (the daycare provides food for everything else), I like that these are just paper and don’t feel as bad when they’re tossed. We’ve had a lot of containers get lost, so this has been our best solution so far! https://www.lunchskins.com/products/recyclable-sealable-paper-sandwich-bags-50-ct-box-shark?gclid=CjwKCAiAmNbwBRBOEiwAqcwwpbH2QxuQjziN-Kiv3MEkibqiu4lHu6sruVZJNauJWQ6P_VTFFj6wLhoCJx4QAvD_BwE you can buy them at Target near the Ziploc bags.
We also store so many things in mason jars and invested in some nice glass storage containers. We stopped putting leftover items in plastic bags and it was a much easier transition than I had thought it would be. We also put any plastic bags we do bring home into a single bag and put them in the car so they go into the recycle bin walking IN to the store! The only plastic we have is from Instacart.
I love the challenge and will definitely be participating. Additionally, and I know not everyone has access to or can do this, but I just signed up for a recycling program where every 2 weeks (or less often if needed) they pick up items that normally cannot be recycled and this includes a lot of single use plastic bags like ziplocks, grocery bags, the plastic pop bags in packaging, etc. It does cost me $10 a month but I feel so much better knowing that these things are going to be recycled.
That is awesome! Where do you live so we can tell others in your area abou this service?
I love this but am wondering what do you do when you order groceries? I know not everyone does this but as a mom of two young boys I have to get groceries delivered or do curbside pickup and they use SO many bags (way more than I would when I go into the store).
amazon prime now has been coming in paper bags, we either recycle them or use them for our cat litter since they are stronger than plastic bags. When we use a store from instacart, we just reuse the plastic bags like we did previously. Or you can often return plastic bags to grocery stores when you have a chance, I dont believe brand matters.
I’m so excited! I’ve been doing this for awhile and what I’ve found works well is to keep 1-3 bags in:
– my desk at work
– my car
– by the front door
– a small one in my purse
By keeping my “bags of bags” in accessible places, I’m way less likely to forget to use them!! I also keep all of the plastic bags I accumulated over time and try to re-purpose them, or eventually bring them in for recycling.
A point about compostable bags, if your community doesn’t compost they are treated like trash just like all your other garbage. It may not be worth the extra price. But you should absolutely encourage your community to start a composting program. Also, cat waste should never ever be composted because it carries specific toxins.
I have been utilizing our “single use” ziploc bags for toys and such, which extends their useful life.
I think the point is that in a landfill they can decompose as opposed to regular plastic bags that live there for 500+ years. So in that sense, they’re still worth it IMO!
From what I read, if a poop bag or any compostable item is thrown out inside of a regular plastic trash bag, those items won’t break down/decompose until the plastic bag they are in begins to break down.
Oh I see what you’re saying! I throw mine directly into our trash bins in the garage with no plastic bags so I hadn’t thought about that. But good point for anyone else using them.
I saw a story on the news of how some women were recycling plastic bags by turning them into sleeping mats for homeless people in their community — I am not sure if this is the exact story I saw, but it is very similar:
It doesn’t help stop/reduce the use of plastic bags, but certainly puts existing plastic bags to better use than just throwing them out!
Thanks for these tips! I am trying to be better. Our local grocery store has monthly gift card drawings where you enter by bringing your own bags in! A county close to us bands plastic bags!! One small step!
I love that idea for grocery stores! Our county also banned plastic bags. It’s so amazing.
I am in! Julia, I love how you care and use your different platforms to really make a difference. There should be more people like you!
I also suggest using reusable beeswax wrap instead of plastic wrap!
Thanks so much Tamara! I’m officially sold on the beeswax wrap. Going to try it.
I love this! Thank you for starting this, I always have ideas and notions to start incorporating this into our family’s lifestyle but by following along with your blog and other readers it helps give me the focus and enthusiasm to stick with it. I look forward to sharing on social media so I can help encourage others, every little bit really does help. I am trying to get my office manager to just stop buying paper coffee cups and plastic utensils and make employees use real mugs (we have hundreds, seriously) and use real utensils. I just ordered a nice little $10 set on Amazon. We have 250 people in our office and to think about what we would save if everyone just used a mug and washed it at the end of the day!
Yay! I’m excited about this series, as I have been making major changes to my sustainability lifestyle and habits the past year. I’ve replaced my cotton round makeup pads with reusable, washable organic cotton rounds; only use reusable water bottle for drinks; use my Contigo insulated coffee mug for iced coffee; and try my best to use containers for leftsover (not baggies). That said, I love January’s challenge! I have a bunch of neatly, folded reusable grocery totes in my car trunk that just stay there…dormant. I always forget about them when I go shopping. I guess one you develop a routine it’s habitual to just bring them? I may move them to my backseat or front seat so I don’t forget. I am going to tweak this to finish using up my last 3 boxes of Ziploc baggies, and incorporate some of the ideas that you included above. I reuse baggies a lot too, especially for chips, fruits, or boiled eggs. How do you store your frozen meat/poultry?
It makes it easier considering many stores in Connecticut have done away with plastic bags or charge for them since the bag tax went into effect in the fall. My Stop and Shop only has paper bags and many places such as cvs have switched to paper. I think Walmart is one of the few places that still has plastic.
What a wonderful way to connect with your readers for a great cause! I do want to mention that it’s not just your town that has made the switch to no plastic shopping bags, it’s the whole state of CT. And while they haven’t completely done away with plastic bags, the charge is $.10 for every one (plastic or paper) you need. Which I think is wonderfully progressive!
It’s great that you’re trying to be more sustainable but you should also think about how frequently you’re buying new clothes, ordering packages online, etc. The new fridge you bought probably canceled out the rest of your “sustainable” choices. Seems unnecessary for something that just looks good on instagram.
I hear you, Tracey! I’ve been buying way less online and asked Amazon to change my packaging preferences so it’s definitely something on my radar. The fridge is actually something that we wanted and needed and while I appreciate where you’re coming from, I hope that you understand that I’m doing my best and that it’s ok to buy the things you like and want and need and live a balanced life.