We almost face the situation every day:
After work you stop by the grocery store or a mall to get one or two items for dinner. While you are walking the aisles you come up with various ideas on what to cook. Finally when you are waiting at the cashier you find yourself not only with your two planned items but 15 different things you can hardly carry. And without wasting a further thought you grab and buy a bag. Very likely you will buy a plastic bag since it is (still) cheaper than a paper bag. It is only one plastic bag. It is not such a big deal and doesn’t make a difference anyway, you think.
But the next day, maybe the day after, the whole procedure starts again. And again: You need only some bread or butter but you do not straight go and pick it. There are so many delicious or useful things on your way you figure you need. So in the end you buy a plastic bag to carry your stuff home.
Here we have two plastic bags within two days although the first one might still be somewhere close by.
Assuming that the behaviour pattern of all human beings is similar, one can roughly estimate the (pointless) consumption of plastic bags:
Considering the fact that for example 200 people a day shop in your supermarket and buy a plastic bag (which is for sure rather underestimated!) it amounts to 600-700 plastic bags a week. And suddenly it does make a difference…
In fact, in Germany alone 76 plastic bags are consumed per head and year. This leads to a consumption of 6,1 billion bags a year or 11.700 pieces per minute. Besides Italy, Spain and Great Britain, Germany is among the biggest consumers of plastic bag consumption. Nothing to be proud of.
Many plastic bags are wasted just because people do not think of bringing their own basket or paper bag for their shopping tour. They do not plan to buy something, they buy on impulse.
This is not only creating a waste of raw material (crude oil), money and energy during production. Furthermore, after an average usage of 25 (!!) minutes the bags need to be disposed of which requires the same amount energy as its production. – In addition, a huge amount is not disposed of properly and pollutes our environment, especially water, just because nobody cares.
What is already done?
Most of us use their plastic bags at least twice. First for shopping and then as a waste bag. In many shops you can get paper bags, which causes a decrease in the demand for plastic bags.
In some supermarkets in Germany, like Rewe, one can also buy big cardboard boxes, which are easy to handle. The boxes get a sticker to show that it is property of the customer. The boxes are quite sturdy and therefore appear more valuable. For that reason people tend to reuse them more often than a paper bag, which simply disappears in the normal waste.
Futher Sustainable ideas
Apart from the idea to substitute plastic by paper one could as well think about what else one could to do with paper bags and boxes after usage.
I found a website that offers the possibility to use paper boxes like already mentioned and after that have them rebuild in a chair or small play house for children to play with.
I feel, that is a real good idea. Not only, that these things are not thrown away but reused. This shows children that things can be used in many different ways.
In my opinion, this is one of the main things to teach children regarding environmental behaviour. Things that are apparently useless can get additional value by reusing them in a different way.
Since we will not change people’s shopping behaviour we need a transport medium for spontaneous purchases. The objective would be to substitute plastic bags as much as possible and try to reuse the substitute to maximise its usage.
We might not be able to change the world from one day to the other, but we can focus on giving children the awareness to protect their environment. This can be done every day.
Deutsche Umwelthilfe e.V , http://www.duh.de/