Using less plastic has big benefits

reusable bag with recycling symbol

Every time I check out at Walmart, the local grocery store, or the Dollar Store, I get frustrated. I see so much waste. Plastic waste.

As a society, we have become used to convenience and quick and easy. What I am referring to are the tremendous amounts of plastic bags I see leaving the stores in shopping carts.

I’m not even talking about being an eco-friendly consumer of products. Just that one simple thing: the plastic bag.

Let me explain

As an educator, one of the best jobs is getting to work with kids. For the most part, kids are eager to learn and open-minded to change. I have preached many simple solutions that they or someone in their household could do to make an impact on this world

One of the easiest things is using a cloth or reusable shopping bag instead of those flimsy, single-use plastic bags.

reusable bag

Bag lady

Yes, I’ve been called a bag lady. But it’s the reusable kind. I have probably 20 or more of them and just a handful of single-use plastic bags in the house.

By the way, I use the plastic ones as trash liners — reduce, reuse, recycle.

But as I tell the students, there is a problem with the reusable bags. The shopper has to remember them! So, the students’ job is to “train” the shopper or help the shopper remember the bags.

Put them in the vehicle, and take them in the store. After that, it’s like remembering your wallet or purse,  it’s common, it’s a habit.

If you shop at Aldi then you already know you must take something to bag your items — it’s kind of like that. You prepare ahead of time.

It’s quite simple, and the benefits are that you can have stronger bags that don’t tear, can hold more products and are environmentally friendly.

So why not invest in the future, in the land, in nature? A simple solution that can make a big difference.

plastic bags littered on trees

Make a difference

So if you don’t think you will make a difference, you must be one of the rare people that recycle 100% of the single-stream plastic bags. Sadly, the facts don’t lie. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags in a year. The average American takes home almost 1,500 plastic bags in that year.

According to Waste Management, only 1% of those of bags get returned for recycling.

So where is it going? Either in the landfill, where it takes 500 or more years to degrade…or it ends up somehow as pollution. How this happens is for another article, but we all know, as we have seen plastic debris and bags all over the landscape, in the streams, creeks, fields and trees.

It ends up in the waters and eventually in the oceans. Up to 80% of ocean plastic pollution enters the ocean from land. Each year 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags.

Sea turtles eat bags that look like jellyfish. Dolphins, whales, birds, the coral reefs and many other marine lives ingest plastic, in large forms or in forms of plastic microbeads. Even animals near us and livestock can be harmed from this deadly plastic if ingested.

So please, think twice if you don’t believe that you won’t make a difference. Every person that changes to reusable bags will make a difference.

Going green

What you do matters. You can start today and be a good example for others, for the next generation and feel good about yourself. Change is coming.

If you already recycle, use reusable bags and do “green” things, then thank-you! If not, you may be forced to do this, or pay in one way or another. Many countries, cities and states have banned or are considering banning single-stream plastic bags, and even straws.

The good news is, people and governments have become more aware and have taken action towards this environmental issue. Whether it’s a ban or a tax, my hope is that we use less of these single-use plastic bags.


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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at



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