More and more of us are starting to use reusable shopping bags when we go out – and that”s a great thing!  Reusable shopping bags are one of the easiest ways we can do a small thing that makes a big difference. Back in February, we looked at some different options for green goals we can set for this year, and a commitment to reusable shopping bags was #2 on the list, as well as one of the most popular goals you all mentioned.

In fact, a switch to reusable shopping bags can have such a powerful impact that I want to share with you a few statistics I found, just in case you”re not aware how much of a difference you can really make.

Facts About Paper and Plastic Bags

• The average person will use over 350 bags in a single year.

• In 1999, more than 14 million trees were cut down to produce 10 billion paper bags that were used by Americans that year.

• One paper grocery bag requires 1 gallon of water to make (yes, 1 gallon per bag).

• The manufacturing of paper bags actually uses far more resources and creates more pollution than the manufacturing of plastic bags; however, paper bags are compostable and biodegradable.

• Plastic bags never actually biodegrade; instead, they photodegrade, which means the sun breaks them down into tinier and tinier pieces until they eventually mix back into the soil and water, to be consumed by plants, animals, fish – and therefore you and me.

• Plastic bags are produced from petroleum (oil).

• In New York City, one less grocery bag per person would reduce waste by five million pounds and save $250,000 in disposal costs.

As you can see, neither paper nor plastic bags are really better than the other.  The only good answer is reusable bags!

Photo by Annie Mole

Reusable Bags: A Caveat

I give you these statistics because you may not like what you”re going to read next, so I really want you to be convinced of the importance of reusable bags.  🙂

As with many other things Php Aide in life, reusable bags – though the best solution available – are not without problems. There is now evidence that reusable bags used for carrying fresh produce or raw meat may be harboring bacteria from those groceries, such as e. coli and salmonella. If you keep your bags in your car during warm weather, the risk is even greater; these bacteria thrive in heat.  Sounds scary, I know.  But please don”t throw in the towel just yet.

Keep Your Bags Bacteria-Free

Here are a few simple tips for keeping your reusable shopping bags clean and keeping you and your family healthy.

Wash your bags regularly. If you”re like me, you”ve probably never even thought to wash your reusable bags at all.  Eeek.  Yes, get those bags into the wash today!

Don”t store your bags in the car when it”s warm outside – or even when it”s sunny, really.  Perhaps never!  This one will be hard for me; as soon as I unload my groceries, I take my bags straight back out to the car to be used again next time.  Instead, I should take them to the laundry room, wash them, dry them, and then set aside a place for them near the door.

Dry your bags in the sun when you can; sunlight kills bacteria, as many cloth-diapering mamas know.

Designate specific bags for raw meat and for produce, and designate all your reusable grocery bags separately from reusable bags you may have for other purposes, such as clothing or books.

Photo by Artotem

One news article I read said that in other words, we should treat our reusable bags the same way we treat our plates and bowls and glasses after a meal; we wash them and dry them before we use them again.  I”m not sure I will wash my bags every time I use them, but I will definitely begin to wash them regularly, at least on a monthly basis.

What about you? Do you wash your reusable shopping bags? Have you heard of the connection between bacteria and reusable bags?