Reusable Bags: The Heart of Austin’s Bag Ban

The city of Austin recently passed a bag ban that went into effect on March, 1, 2013.  This means that local grocery stores, retail shops, gas stations, restaurants, you name it, can no longer issue their patron’s plastic or paper bags [with some exceptions] to accommodate their purchases.  In our book, this is awesome.  It is one more way to help eliminate waste that has a negative impact on our Earth’s resources and it’s inhabitants [including humans].

If you haven’t seen the documentary, Bag It, we highly recommend it.  It is a great look at the toll that the creation and consumption of plastic bags takes on the planet.  Over 12 million barrels of oil are used annually to produce the plastic bags that we consume in America.  Austin is not the first city to incorporate such a ban.  Boston, San Francisco, Aspen, Portland, Seattle, New Haven, Annapolis, and Phoenix [to name a few] have all either incorporated or are attempting to incorporate a ban.  Even other countries such as China and Ireland have incorporated bans or have effectively imposed fees on bags to deter their use.

Not only do plastic bags cost retailers a ton of money, which is incorporated into your cost as a consumer, they are dangerous to animals and humans.  Hundreds of thousands of sea animals, including sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and otters, are killed every year from eating plastic bags that they mistake for food.  Even land animals such as cows and goats suffer the same way.  Plastic bags are light and can travel quickly out of a trash can, trash truck, landfill, or parking lot to the habitats of these creatures.  It seems unimaginable, but it happens.

So, how is our health affected?  Plastic bags contain BPA and phthalates.  These terms may ring a bell.  They have been in the media recently, as companies are learning of their dangers to human health.  BPA and phthalates are used to make plastic soft.  They are used in the production of plastic bags, plastic cups, plastic toys, the list goes on.  BPA and phthalates have been shown to affect hormone levels, cause disease, and are known endocrine-disruptors.  Many plastic manufacturers, specifically those who make children’s toys and food and water containers, are now making BPA-free and phthalate-free products.

Paper bags are allowed within the Austin city limits only if they contain at least 40% recycled content.  This number will increase on March 1, 2014 to 80% recycled content.  While they are allowed under the rules of the ban, the production of paper bags costs our planet trees and even the recycled content portion costs oil, water, and energy to make.  They do not compete with the perks of reusable bags.

Using reusable bags is a win, win.  They are sturdier and have less of an impact on your pocketbook, our planet, and our health.  There are several options when it comes to the type of bags you can purchase.  We have been using the same reusable bags for about 5 years.  The ones we have are made of 100% cotton or jute.  We suggest investing a few bucks more for a bag of this type.  They can be found online [check out] and even in some grocery stores.   Any of the bags we have purchased that are made from recycled bottles [the flimsy, plastic type ones sold in most grocery stores] unfortunately have lasted a year tops before they start to fall apart.

The only complaint we hear about this ban is the inconvenience.  Sure, it is a pain to remember to carry your bags into the store with you.  But worth it?  We think so.