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The Plastic Bag Ban: What it Means and 12 Tips to Master It

Dancing Plastic Bag Scene from American Beauty

You may recall the scene in the 1999 film “American Beauty” when character Ricky Fitts reveals “The most beautiful thing I ever filmed” – a plastic bag ‘dancing’ in the wind. While that scene captivated audiences, the reality is that single-use plastic bags take more than 1,000 years to break down.

As of January 1, Sacramento along with 145 other California communities are doing away with single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, large pharmacies and other retailers. Since 2013, San Francisco has had similar bag ban in effect. While California as a whole will not be required to ditch the plastic bags just yet, legislation to make it a statewide law will be on the November ballot.

The Sacramento Zoo has a proud commitment to reduce waste, conserve energy and create positive environmental changes. The Zoofari Market has a long history of giving biodegradable bags, rather than plastic, to customers. Even though the bags are biodegradable, in order to further reduce waste, each customer is asked whether they would like a bag. The zoo’s gift store also sells large reusable totes. This has all been done to reduce the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags.

According to the City of Sacramento City Council Report, 19 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed throughout California annually. Of that, less than five percent are properly recycled. These non-biodegradable bags are lightweight and those that don’t end up in landfills get drifted by the wind, just like in the film. Instead of providing a serene moment, however, the bags drift into rivers, bays, the ocean and other natural environments. Bags can also catch on trees, fences and other items that cause them to break into smaller pieces. These plastic particles harm wildlife through ingestion and by releasing toxic residues in soil and waterways. Worldwide, it’s estimated that single-use plastic bags kill 1 million seabirds along with 100,000 other animals annually.

Many people may find these facts startling but are still wondering how to cope with the new ban. The good news is there are plenty of options. While stores required to ban single-use plastic bags will still offer compostable or paper bags for a small fee, you can adapt by acquiring reusable canvas, nylon, polyester or natural fiber bags at most retail locations and online.

The common concern for many people is remembering to bring those bags into the store. The main trick is to care. Aside from knowing that for every plastic or paper bag you don’t use, you’re helping the environment. Sacramento Zoo staff also compiled 12 tips to help you master the bag ban like an expert.

  1. Keep a large sum of various-sized reusable bags in your trunk. Once you park, immediately hit the ‘open trunk’ button. If you’re completely new to bringing your own bags, it may help to begin by keeping a bag on the passenger seat or in plain sight as a reminder.
  2. After unloading groceries, bring the bags immediately back to the trunk or place them near your exit so you’ll remember to grab them the next time you leave the house.
  3. Place additional reusable bags in locations you may pass on your way out of the house, such as the pantry, coat closet, etc.
  4. Most reusable bags are larger and can hold more than typical single-use plastic bags, making loading and unloading more convenient as you have less to carry and fewer trips from the car to the kitchen.
  5. Designate certain bags for groceries, such as fruits and veggies, dry goods and frozen foods, while designating other bags to items such as cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, etc.
  6. Use a spray bottle mixed with equal parts rubbing alcohol to water and spray bags as needed to keep them germ free. Some bags can even be washed with laundry.
  7. Obtain bags that show off your personality. These types of bags are especially great for department stores.
  8. Some bags, like ChicoBag are not only fashionable but stuff into pocket sized bundles and are great to have when you’re out and about but not necessarily planning to shop. These convenient bags expand to hold items should you un-expectantly find something.
  9. Instead of using single-use plastic bags for pet waste, purchase biodegradable bags from local pet stores or online. It may not be as affordable but at least you’re not wrapping waste in something that won’t breakdown for nearly a century.
  10. When giving a gift to someone, use a reusable tote in place of a gift bag or wrapping. This costs less than most gift wrap and will keep their collection growing.
  11. When you’re ready to take it to the next step, get mesh produce bags from Earthwise Bag Company or other retailers to use in place of the plastic fruit and veggie bags.
  12. Those with a gift for sewing can take it even further by turning old T-shirts and clothes into reusable, machine washable bags.

While it may seem the public has no choice but to adapt to the new bag ban, hopefully these 12 tips will make it a simpler and even an enjoyable process.


The Plastic Bag Ban: What it Means and 12 Tips to Master It via @sacramentopress

About the author

April Mae Saenz Johnson

April Mae Saenz Johnson

On a daily basis, I see animals from all over the world in one special place: the Sacramento Zoo. I am happy to share inside info, fun facts and photographs of the zoo's animals, staff and events.

In my personal life, I enjoy the sleepy, gross and amazing moments of motherhood, time with my husband and our labradoodle, with a bit of traveling, yoga and volunteering on the Leadership Team for Social Media Club Sacramento.

I am embarking on a new adventure as co-founder of Aging UP, a nonprofit empowering youth with experience in foster care to successfully transition into adulthood.

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