10 June 2011

Plastic: Use, Reuse, or DON'T Use

For being such a progressive, liberal, and environmentally friendly city, I am surprised how few people in Austin take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. Even at the farmers market, where shoppers don’t have a choice but to carry reusable bags (or baskets), they still wind up putting their vegetables in plastic produce bags. And if you have any Latin American blood in you – you, especially, have no excuse. Our forefathers and foremothers from the homeland have been ecologically conscious since the “mercados” first existed.

Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato
Photo courtesy of Shand Walton (c) 2006
I’ve been using canvas bags to carry my groceries for the past four or five years. It’s a no-brainer. All you have to do is make it a habit to take them with you every time you go to the store, or stash a few in your car, just in case you forget. Even though I’ve managed to keep the larger, handled plastic bags at bay, the smaller produce bags – as well as the infamous Ziploc bags – still accumulate by the mounds at home.

Items like bananas and potatoes never get a plastic bag. Nature gave them their own built-in features to make transportation easy. But what about green beans? Or a pound of granola from the bulk bins? You can’t just throw those into your shopping basket, so you’re forced to take yet another produce bag off the roll.

After watching the documentary Bag It (read my review of the film on Popular Hispanics), it’s been at the front of mind to buy the reusable mesh or light cotton produce bags to carry loose vegetables or bulk items such as rice, beans, and nuts. It turns out I can buy them locally at Eco-Wise on South Congress, an “Austin resource for non-toxic, recycled, alternative, earth and eco friendly, natural supplies for building and life.” If there isn’t a place near you, you can always find them online at www.ecobags.com or www.reuseit.com, or support the Bag It documentary project by purchasing them at www.bagitmovie.com/shop.html.

Undercover Mexican Girl's Plastic Laundry Day
In the meantime, you can do what I did. Rinse them out, hang them to dry, and give them a prolonged life before they inevitably wind up at the dump, and finally, in our oceans. Or instead of throwing them away, you have the following recycling options (via the City of Austin website):
  • Many Austin retail grocers such as Central Market, H.E.B., Randalls, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods collect and recycle plastic bags. Look for the specially marked containers at these stores.
  • Cycled Plastics in Austin is a public drop-off for plastic, including dry cleaner bags, newspaper sleeves and plastic bags that have had no food contact and have no labels or stickers on them. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 10200 McKalla Place.
  • Many schools in Austin have organized plastic bag recycling projects. Check with a nearby school to see if you can drop off and support their efforts.
If you’re a creative type, you can make your own recycled plastic craft projects such as a throw rug, a beach bag, or a raincoat. Or maybe something a bit more artistic? Find inspiration by checking out the work of Austin-based artist, Virginia Fleck, who has been working exclusively with recycled plastic bags since 2002, creating site specific ecologically conscious art works.

Artist Virginia Fleck's Recycled Plastic Bag Mandalas

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE your idea! I, too, take mi morral to the market. It aches me whenever I have to use a plastic produce bag for the smaller items. But this just makes a whole lot more sense and I feel silly for not thinking of it sooner. Gracias for sharing! Definitely hitting up Eco-Wise this weekend.