Natural and Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Bags

Natural alternatives to plastic bags

In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about all of the environmental and health problems associated with our massive plastic use in the developed world. Recent research has raised awareness about BPA (Bisphenol-A), and many people have started avoiding this particular plastic chemical, but many everyday products still contain BPA or other replacement chemicals that may not be any safer.

What’s the Big Deal with Plastics?

Plastic has become such a part of our daily lives that it can be difficult to even think of trying to remove it completely, but there are some really compelling reasons to make the switch:

  • Plastics contain endocrine disruptors linked to hormone problems and they can be especially harmful to our children (which is scary since many kid-specific foods and most toys are plastic).
  • Plastic chemicals have been linked to obesity and infertility.
  • The chemicals in plastics have thoroughly polluted our environment, especially oceans. This damage may already be irreversible and is still increasing! If your health isn’t a big enough motivator, consider that plastic chemicals have been found under 20 feet of ice in the antarctic (where there is no human habitation or waste) and that many animal species are also being affected by our plastic waste.

Plastic Bags are a Big Source of Pollution

Most plastics contain some type of harmful chemical, but plastic bags are one of the worst offenders. Not only do we collectively use and discard over 1 TRILLION plastic bags each year, these bags take 1000 years to full degrade, releasing chemicals the entire time. On top of that, plastic bags are the second most common ocean waste (after cigarette butts) and they harm thousands of species of ocean wildlife each year (with an estimated 40,000+ pieces of plastic floating in each square mile of the ocean!).

Concerned yet? I hope so.

This is one aspect of health and environmental concern that I am very passionate about and one area that we can all make a small difference in by making some simple household switches. Choosing eco-friendly and natural alternatives is more expensive in the short term, as it is hard to beat the price of a $0.10 Ziploc bag, but over the long run, alternatives can save money and help your family avoid chemicals that may be messing with your hormones!

The long-term environmental impact is just as important with the rapid rate we are contributing plastic waste to our landfills and oceans.

For the sake of your family and our planet, please consider finding alternatives to plastic bags in your home. It is easier than you think!

Alternatives to Plastic Sandwich Bags

The largest source of plastic exposure for many people and of plastic pollution is from plastic bags, as Ziploc type bags are often used for storage, in kitchens, and especially for packing or carrying lunches and food. This is also one of the easiest types of exposure to replace.

In Lunches

There are some great alternatives to using plastic bags in lunches. These are the ones we use:

  • Sandwich Wrap Placemats– These fold to hold a sandwich (or veggie slices, wraps, etc) and unfold to be a placemat.
  • Stainless Steel Lunch boxes– A favorite with my kids… these heavy duty lunch boxes are our go-to for field trips and travel. They are ideal because I can pack an entire lunch in them and use with or without the dividers.
  • Zipper Sandwich Bags– Not waterproof, but these bags are great for storing trail mix, granola, chopped veggies, plantain chips or homemade crackers.

Our kids also each have a stainless steel water bottle that they use when on field trips, camping or traveling.

For Storage

Finding alternatives for food storage can be a little trickier. Plastic gallon bags have the advantage of being very compact and freezer safe, making them ideal for freezing food. This has been the most difficult item to find replacements for and I have a mixture of containers that I use in the refrigerator and freezer. I use these containers when I bulk-prepare and bulk-cook food one day a week and it is helpful that they stack easily in the fridge and most are oven-safe for re-heating.

  • Steel Latching Containers– My favorite kitchen containers. They are refrigerator and freezer safe and really sturdy. I use these daily.
  • Glass Storage with Stainless Lids– Another great storage option that is plastic free, has a stainless lid and can be used to re-heat food in the oven.
  • Silicon Storage Bags– The closest alternative to actual plastic storage bags. I still prefer the two options above, but these are another good option.
  • Mason Jars– Great for storing liquids in the fridge and also great for pre-making salads or any type of one-dish meal that needs to be packed for use on-the-go.
  • Collapsible Silicon Storage– Also great for fridge storage (my one complaint is that they do not stack well without collapsing).

Alternatives to Plastic Grocery Bags

Grocery bags are another huge source of plastic use. Most people are familiar with reusable grocery bags but statistically, most of us are not using them. There are no excuses here… they hold groceries better than plastic bags, are easier to carry and last longer. Plus, they are inexpensive or free in most places.

These large grab bags can each replace up to 10 regular grocery bags per use (they hold 40 lbs and come in insulated versions too). One set of smaller re-usable bags can also replace a trip’s worth of plastic grocery bags and make unloading easier. There are now even heavy-duty organic cotton reusable bags available!

Feeling crafty? Make some non-sew bags out of old shirts in about ten minutes.

Produce Bags

Produce bags are also very easy to replace. You can find mesh bags with drawstrings that are perfect for produce, or make your own with some lightweight fabric.

This post has some additional ideas for reducing plastic use in the home.

Note: I’ll be the first to admit that plastic bags are incredibly convenient and switching to these alternatives can be a challenge. I’m certainly not perfect in this regard and still find myself using them a times. However, the more I learn the more I realize how important it is to change, so my family has made it a priority to limit our plastic usage whenever possible. I really hope you’ll join me!

Have you found any other alternatives to plastic bags for your family? Share below!

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