Those awful plastic grocery bags are fading fast. Whole Foods is phasing them out. Already, stores in San Francisco, Toronto and Austin, Texas, have done away with them. On April 22 [Earth Day, get it?], the entire chain will be plastic bag-free.
And China, not exactly a shining example of environmentalism, has banned plastic bags from the entire country. As of June 1, all stores, from the largest to the smallest, must go bag-free. For the practical Chinese, it’s a matter of not wasting 37 million barrels of oil a year on bags. It’s also a chance to polish their image for the Olympics. Whatever the reason, it’s good news for the planet.
The problems with plastic bags are many. First, they don’t biodegrade, as paper does. They photodegrade—which is to say that light causes them break up into tinier and tinier particles, but they never stop being plastic. According to a New York Times article [first brought to my attention by Kirsten over at Gezellig Girl], “Altogether, each year the country is estimated to use 86 billion bags, which end up blowing down city streets, or tangled in the stomachs of whales and sea turtles, or buried in landfills where, environmental organizations say, they persist for as long as 1,000 years.” And even if you recycle them, as more communities are now mandating, plastic degrades in quality with each recycling, so it’s not truly sustainable.
So what can you use instead of plastic? Interestingly, when Whole Foods eliminated plastic bags in San Francisco, paper bag usage only went up 10%. Instead, people switched to canvas bags. More and more grocery chains have begun selling them, for a buck or so, as a way to help customers make the change. In New York, designer canvas grocery bags became instant status symbols, selling out quickly and creating eco-envy.
And now Trader Joe’s has come up with the coolest canvas tote yet. Innocently dubbed the Six-Bottle Beverage Tote, it is clearly designed and sized to snugly hold six bottles of wine. In fact, the cashier who sold us ours called it a wine bag and suggested it would come in handy this summer.
It sells for just 99¢ and is sturdily constructed, with canvas dividers that keep bottles from clinking together. And if you end up partying as our cashier suggested this summer, it’s perfect for toting your empties back home for recycling.