The Four [Reusable] Bag System

Just about everyone I know has, and earnestly means to use, reusable shopping bags. Reusable bags are a fantastic, easy, and cheap way to make a dent in your plastic usage. My parents accumulated a closet full of them during the dot com era of conventions and freebies, and I not only inherited some of these sturdy and free (if undeniably ugly) canvas bags, I also picked up a few hippie bags of my own during my wild university days at Santa Cruz. Yes, they have Celtic knots on them.

However, many of the people who have and want to use their reusable bags don’t actually manage to do so on a regular basis.  There are two key elements keeping would-be greenies from achieving greater plastic independence:

  • We forget to take them out of the car when we go shopping. (We are too lazy to go back for them once we are ten feet from the car.)
  • We forget to bring them back to the car after using them for toting groceries into the house. (We are too lazy to make another trip out to the car to drop them off.)

Sound familiar?  Ugliness isn’t a contributing factor: forgetfulness and a streak of laziness definitely are, and none of us are immune. So dig out those dot com bags or get out your snazzy organic cotton ones.  We’re going to need at least four to combat these two banal but real deterrents.

Step 1: Take two reusable shopping bags (more if you buy a lot of groceries at the same time), preferably the more colorful ones, and plant them somewhere highly noticeable in your car. My preference is for the passenger seat, but if you actually have passengers, you can stuff them by the side of the seat, on the door, or where you put your purse — anywhere you will see them when you are in the car. Bright is good!

Step 2: Put the remaining two reusable bags in your trunk. These are your back-up bags and should not be needed unless you’ve been abusing the system.

Step 3: Use your front seat bags whenever you shop. Remember, they live on your passenger seat (or thereabouts), so only short excursions to the store and to the house are permitted.

Step 4: If you forget to bring your front seat bags back to the car (which is probably inevitable at some point), you may use your back-ups on the condition that those bags return to their home ASAP.

Step 5: If you get down to 1 or no bags in your car, gather up the bags languishing in your house and put your purse in them so you’ll remember them the next time you head out. (Do not forget that you have put your purse in them.)

And that’s it. Pretty simple, with ample allowances for forgetfulness and laziness. Tested and true by yours truly, and I am by no means more attentive or responsible than the average green-ish citizen. Let me know how it works for you!

Oh…and please don’t run out and get designer reusable bags if you have perfectly usable ones already. Sustainability is ultimately about consuming less.


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