My Plastic Bag Bin Floweth Over

Plastic shopping bags. As of this morning, we have approximately 76 of those ubiquitous goods transporters crammed beneath our sink. Sure, they’re handy. And one of their brethren delighted us as it flitted and floated across the screen in American Beauty. But these useful sacks aren’t in the least eco friendly, and soon IKEA shoppers will have to pay a fee if they want to carry their purchases home in a plastic bag, we learned from a Reuters article.

Sweden's IKEA will charge US customers five cents for disposable plastic shopping bags in what the international furniture giant said on Wednesday was a first step to ending their use altogether. IKEA said the decision to stop giving away free bags to customers aimed to reduce the estimated 100 billion bags thrown away by all US consumers each year.


The average American family of four throws away about 1,500 single-use polyethylene bags, which do not degrade for around 1,000 years, IKEA said. Less than 1 percent are recycled.

Though putting a tax on plastic shopping bags is apparently new in the U.S., the policy has made a big difference elsewhere. After Ireland started charging about 20 cents per bag in 2002, shoppers cut their use by 90 percent. This July, the tax will jump to 29 cents, further encouraging consumers to switch to reusable bags. According to Reuters, Taiwan has used 80 percent fewer bags since stores began charging for them. Some cities and countries (including Australia, Rwanda, and Bangladesh) have outlawed plastic bags, since they can clog drains, take up room in landfills, and endanger wildlife.

Biodegradable bags might be a more environmentally friendly option, but they also have drawbacks: They consume natural resources and most take a year and a half to break down.

In general, we try to follow the BYOB (bring your own bag) school of thought…but somehow plastic shopping bags still accumulate. Our not-so-novel use for them is lining little garbage cans around the house, but some crafty souls have devised unexpected uses for plastic bags, including a rug, a knitted carryall, and a wallet. Anybody else got a suggestion?


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I know many European countries have charged for bags for years. Of course, plastic bags of yore used much more material than the current versions, but they are ubiquitous now and that makes them harder to get rid of. I remember when some stores began charging for paper bags back 10 years ago - that did not last. It has to become "the thing to do" and I think Ikea is in a position to make that statement. I have about 10 heavy, cloth bags in my closet, paniers for my bike and plenty of backpacks of a few sizes ready for my shopping trips. If plastic bags disappeared today, we would make due.

Superstore in Canada has also charged for plastic bags for as long as I can remember, although I'm sure it has a lot to do with saving them money too, as you also bag your own groceries. Since I'd like to bring my own bags wherever I go, I like this system, but some people complain and don't go there because of it. I'm sure if those same people actually walked to the store, they'd see the advantage of having a better constructed, tougher bag than those flimsy plastic ones that quickly start cutting off the circulation in your hands or tearing apart.

I guess it's all about different lifestyles, and mine definitely seems to be in the minority around here.

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