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.
There are some great alternatives to using plastic bags in lunches. These are the ones we use:
- Zip Top – We use these anytime we are on the road or away from the house for an extended period of time. They are made from food grade silicone and they are dishwasher safe!
- 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.
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 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. You’ll notice that many of the above products link to Radiant Life. This post contains more info and a list of some of my favorite products from Radiant Life.
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. If we all join together, consumer demand for low waste products will rise and companies will have to listen!
Have you found any other alternatives to plastic bags for your family? Share below!
Discussion (72 Comments)
Just wondering about the produce bags — any concern about them being made of polyester? I couldn’t find any information on that on-line. I don’t want to swap one bad thing for another…
hmm, google can be a bit disobliging if it thinks you didn’t word the question right 🙂 Try asking ‘dangers of polyester’, ‘does polyester leech,’ or ‘polyester and the environment’.
There are 2 types of polyester: that made from fossil fuels and that made from materials made from fossil fuels. The former has very little associated waste bi-products (from an ethical manufacturer), the latter uses recycled materials that might otherwise have gone to landfill. Polyester can be recycled to make polyester can be recycled to make polyester……
Although it is from a designer perspective rather than an environmentalist take a look at https://www1.udel.edu/fiber/issue2/responsibility/. In a ‘side by side’ analysis of the pros and cons of cotton v polyester the writer points out that ethics are a matter of perspective. Or this one https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/will-the-antimony-in-polyester-fabric-hurt-me/, which goes into analysis and impact of the antimony content a little.
Having said that, do you need to buy new? Is there not something in your possession that can be turned into a bag. Old cotton t-shirts can be converted by sew or non-sew methods as can jumpers, skirts, pillow cases, towels etc. Various materials can be turned into ‘thread’ to knit or weave into something new. Old newspapers can be folded to make baskets or produce bags. Cereal boxes can be converted as is, covered and/or given handles. You can even make them from broken umbrellas. Ideas are as limited as your imagination but if you want some help then google ‘making bags from household items’.
Thank you @linda for the articles, I found them very informative. And nice article Wellness Mama. I struggle with use of convenient plastic storage bags/ziplocs/sandwich bags and the waste it produces. It’s a cultural shift on how we operate in our daily lives and decisions we make. Just like carrying a bag for purchases with you at all times will be the norm one day.
I’ve been reading your blog since I got sick last year with leaky gut and use your site as a reference fairly often. I always trust your going to find relevant and accurate information. Thank you for your hard work!
Janean, for leaky gut have you investigated kefir? Many sufferers have had very positive results (you need to be making your own rather than using ready made as it has a much better pro-biotic profile). Also look at the benefits of coconut for the same issue.
It amazes me that large cities such as Austin, Texas no longer use plastic bags at grocery stores. You either bring your reusable bag into the store, or you can purchase reusable bags at the register, or you carry your stuff out individually. If such a large city can enforce this practice, why can’t all cities?
In Rwanda, East Africa plastic shopping bags are illegal–they are confiscated at the airport and other boarder crossings. It can be done!
Austin resident here…it wasn’t without a LOT of kvetching from residents that the plastic bag ban was passed, and it took multiple tries to get it passed into city law. There are multiple smaller municipalities that surround the Austin city limits (Buda, Kyle, Leander, Cedar Park, Manor, etc. – to put it in perspective, my parents live in Buda and their fave grocery store is 20 minutes from their house, which is within Austin city limits) that did NOT implement bag bans, so when those people came into town to shop, they would get royally pissed about having to spend $1-$3 for reusable bags. It’s hard to convince people to understand the importance of why a bag ban is important. As of me writing this today, the state of Texas told the city that the bag ban is “unconstitutional” so shops can’t force anyone to buy bags anymore, but a lot of us still use reusable bags, and larger chains adopted paper bags which are better for the environment IMO.
A great way to recycle those plastic bags from the grocery store is to turn them into “plarn” and crochet 3’x6′ rectangles for homeless to use as sleeping mats!
What about garbage bags? Paper bags and composters are tricky in the city….but what about actual garbage? Does anyone know of any safer alternatives?
Plant based plastic (PLA) bio-bags are becoming more readily available now. Whilst, if going to landfill, these are equally slow to degrade they do not poison the ground like petroleum based ones do. PLA also does not emit toxic fumes if incinerated.
Having read this article I was interested, so I did a little research of my own. You are correct that some plastic domestic containers can ‘bleed’ chemicals (EA’s), but the little bit you missed out is that this happens on an extremely minute scale. Just putting a regular sandwich into a normal widly used plastic sandwich bag & into your lunchbox, or carrying your produce home from the supermarket in a plastic bag once a week, really isn’t going to give you, or your children, cancer or make you infertile. Most of the studies I’ve just read, have shown that the microscopic EA molecules that can be released by your plastics, do so when they’re put under stresses they weren’t necessarily designed to withstand. Take the sandwich bag for instance: situations like prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, i.e leaving it in direct summer sunlight all day, can in extreme cases cause it to “sweat”. Putting it in a microwave, or oven, can produce the same microscopic breakdown of molocules; because it was not designed for those purposes. Some people may be concerned about using plastic babies bottles, & having read blogs & sites such as this, I can fully understand your concerns. You need to remember, that they were designed for their purpose; & that includes being heated whilst containing liquids. The studies I have seen suggest that, when tested, these plastics only really ‘bled’, when saline or ethanol were introduced, or they were exposed to extremes. All manufacturers have to go through stringent scientific testing (especially if producing baby products) before their products are available for sale. They are also required to add usage instructions & warnings to their packaging. What I’m saying, is that with a little commonsense, you can greatly reduce even the minute risks to your health posed by plastics. The non-plastic options detailed here I support wholeheartedly, they are great alternatives, which definitely are better for both you, & the environment, but they’re also an extra expense some of us can’t afford. You could always try going back to basics instead! Before sandwich bags, people would wrap their sarnies (or more likely a chunk of bread, a piece of cheese & an apple) in brown paper, or even a clean handkerchief!! Use life ‘pre-plastics’ as your inspiration!! But, if only plastics will do, use your head & be responsible: Never use plastic items more times, or for longer, than they are intended. Items made as packaging, are not usually designed for the repeated use of, say, Tupperware (yep, even Tupperware is plastic!!!). Have you ever noticed how the tap water in a small, shop bought, mineral water bottle, tastes funny the 20th time it’s refilled?! If you’ve had something that’s designed for repeated use for a long time, or if it looks ‘tatty’ & worn out – then stop using it! Always read the labels! They don’t just put the storage instructions & warnings on there as reading material whilst you’re waiting for the kettle to boil!! Remember, companies do not want to kill their customers – if they did that, they’d never make a profit! They’re not going to knowingly make you ill. They really aren’t all fat-cat rich guys, sitting at the top of their business empire, profiting off the backs of their consumers. There really are no big conspiracies, of cutting corners to make money & sod the customers, like you see on TV! If, after reading this, you’re still really worried, don’t panic! Just do what I did & research it! (& I don’t just mean read one blog) BEING INFORMED IS THE BEST PROTECTION!!!
tell that to the turtles!
Thank you, Felix, for your research and common sense comments.
Thank you. I realise that my comments may appear harsh & hard, but I really do respect what you do on this site, & often agree that the issues you raise are important & people should become informed about them. I’m just aware how easy it is when you find something like this, that really matters to you or bothers you, & because you’re passionate you collect all the info you can, regardless of the voracity of the source, & the basic facts & truths can get lost or buried. We all do it, me included. So, sometimes, if I can, I try to remind people of the basics, bring their thinking back to the little seed in the middle. Sometimes my manner is severe, I’m sorry for that, but I assure you my comments are wrapped with good intentions. Thank you everyone.
At the same time, we are constantly consuming plastics. Perhaps one lunch bag won’t do anything, but microplastics are in the water and food supply. Also, who are conducting these studies? Of course they’re going to say it’s not that bad because lobbying groups have too much power.
I also use corn-based “bio-bags” for storing food in the freezer–my freezer is just too small to accommodate a lot of inflexible containers. They’re not particularly re-usable (although sometimes I do with dry items), but at least I’m not exposing myself to BPA or adding non-biodegradable waste to the landfill 🙂
Have you investigated any of the bio plastics or cellophanes that are becoming more readily available nowadays? I’m not sure what I think about Coca Cola’s efforts since it still uses part petroleum based materials and, travelling halfway around the world for production probably has quite a large footprint but there are others that are completely plant based. Well cellophane, which Walmart took to using at one point (I don’t know if they still do) always has been but the production process leaves a lot to be desired I suppose.
Who knows, maybe one day the stuff our food comes wrapped in will be as edible as the wrapper nature put on the orange I had for my tea 😉
What have you or others used to avoid using plastic bags for trashcan liners?
That’s a tough one, but occasionally I’ve used a cardboard box, or paper backs from the grocery store.
You can always buy eco friendly trash bags that, while they’re still made of plastic, are biodegradable. There are some that are even good for composting, making them a safer option to the regular ones you buy from the store
Biodegradable plastic bags are actually just as bad, if not worse.
I’m reading that compost-able trash bags are best. It seems to be all in the wording. They are a bit pricy, so I am on a search for options
My biggest bugbear with convenience shopping, whether at supermarkets or local shops, is that just about everything comes wrapped in plastic of one sort or another nowadays: bread, fruit, crisps, frozen veg etc. Where this is recyclable – pete, hdpe, ldpe etc – I make sure that it is (recycled that is). Of the remainder, normally marked with a 7 or a ‘not currently recycled’ I use that as my bin for the day, or week depending on the size of it. Much to my annoyance, it is going into the garbage anyway so why not get as much use out of it as I can. when they are full I tie a knot in the top, if they are not large enough I seal them with my bag sealer. I would NEVER consider buying plastic bags to use for the disposal of plastic bags just because the ones I am throwing out do not fit my kitchen waste bin.
I use other people’s bags! There’s always someone in my life who didn’t BYOB to the store or who got takeout in a plastic bag, so I grab those. I always have more than enough.
Of course, ultimately I hope everyone else wises up about this also, and then I’ll need another alternative. But since we compost nearly everything and buy minimal packaged stuff, we have very little trash, and what we do have can be removed and put in something like a chip bag so the liner lasts a few weeks.
Composting often resolves the need to use a plastic trash can liner since that is where the wet stuff is. Once you compost your kitchen food scraps and recycle the recyclables, what’s left is mostly plastic stuff which doesn’t even need a bag. My garbage company prefers no trash liner.
My local recycle center will take plastic bread bags and the like, so I save them up for my every other month trip.
Back in the day, people used to lay recycled newspapers at the bottom of their garbage cans and then use recycled paper grocery bags for their garbage. You might need to check with your local council or city hall about regulations regarding garbage disposal.
I share your concerns, and have also switched away from plastic (and other non-reuseable items). The one plastic item I can’t figure out how to replace is food saver bags (for the food saver machine). I buy a lot of meat in bulk, and none of the alternatives keep it as fresh in the freezer as vacuum sealed bags. Do you have any suggestions?
You could try aluminium foil. That can be pressed around your meat quite tightly. However it is also fairly fragile when frozen so needs to be double wrapped with something like butcher or waxed paper to prevent holes forming – holes, of course, lead to rapid freezer burn.
Coating a joint in any fat that is will be cooked in once defrosted can also help prevent freezer burn from any less airtight wrappings.
If practical, depending on the size of your joint you could actually freeze it in water, pop it out of the container and wrap in whatever is practical for its size and shape. The water would prevent any freezer burn or oxidation – so long as the meat is completely covered. You do have to plan slightly further ahead for defrosting though.
Also check out the likes of these https://www.vegwareglobal.com/ (you’ll have to flick through to find the sealable ones) Thugh they are food quality, none of them actually say freezer proof but the companhy do have stuff that is – and it is all made from renewable bio-degradable materials – sugar cane leftovers, wood pulp, fallen palm leaves and what have you. And they are digestible if they happen to blow away in the wind and get eaten by some unsuspecting goat/orca.
I have used parchment paper for meat in the freezer with elastic band or twine, works quite well and is sealed if you fold it right.
One idea I like is to reuse use some plastic containers you can’t avoid. I use the hard plastic Trader Joe’s cookies containers to make ice blocks for coolers