reduce, reuse, and recycle

These three words, in this order are permanently stuck in my head, which I suppose is a good thing.  I can’t actually remember when these words became part of popular culture, maybe because it happened before I could remember.  As a kid, I remember taking bottles and cans back to the store, mostly for the 10 cent Michigan deposit, but it proves we recycled.  I also remember organizing the recycling for my parents in the garage before we put it out bi-weekly.  I’m curious if anyone older than me (Mom and Dad?) can remember when recycling started to catch on.

Here in Oxford they take their recycling very seriously.  Our recycling makes its way into two color-coded bins depending on the item, which eventually make it to the curb on alternating weeks.  The concept of recycling plastic, glass, and paper isn’t new to us, but I find that both Chelsea and I make an effort to recycle as much as we can – even if it involves disassembling various packages and containers.

And here is yet another recycling container.  Quickly, can you guess what it is for?  Well, it is meant for food scraps.  Oxford City Council has decided to recycle food into what I can only guess is a giant compost pile somewhere.  Pictured above is our little kitchen caddy, lined with a starch bag.  We have a larger container outside that makes its way to the curb every other week.

It took the two of us a little while to get used to putting all of our food scraps into this container, but I think it is really working well.  We found that we have much less trash that needs to go out because the food waste has its own container.  I’m sure many of you already have your own kitchen compost, but I’m happy to see a city embrace the possibility, and would not be surprised to hear that this is happening in more “green” and progressive cities in the USA.

And now for a perfect segue into the real reason for my post – reusable grocery bags.  One of the many differences Chels and I have adapted to here in the UK is bringing our own grocery bags to the store every week.  It isn’t required, but if you want to use the plastic bags the store provides, it costs 5 pence per bag.  Not a prohibitive cost, but it is just as easy for us to bring a couple cloth bags and our backpacks for the mile walk home from the store.  This concept isn’t new here in Europe – my parents remember doing the same right here in Oxford 30 years ago.

The idea also isn’t entirely new to the USA either.  In the last year, we both noticed many more people using reusable shopping bags at stores in Ithaca.  I only bring this up  because of a news article I read earlier this week. Apparently in Washington D.C., shoppers are being charged 5 cents per plastic bag if they choose to use them.  And apparently, not all people are on board with the change.  I encourage you to read the article linked above to fully appreciate why it made me so upset.

I don’t think everyone should be forced to use their own bags.  In fact, we will likely use plastic bags every so often in order to have something to scoop soiled cat litter in for disposal.  But I also don’t think those people that elect to use plastic bags should be upset at the minimal fee they are being charged.

Economically it doesn’t really make sense.  If one plastic bag costs 5 cents, and the reusable bag costs $1, and each bag can hold a similar volume of product, then one would need 20 trips to the grocer to get your money’s worth of that reusable bag.  And then the question remains whether the cloth bag is built to carry 20 trips worth of groceries.  I certainly hope so.

What does everyone think?  Should Americans continue to embrace the push toward sustainability and start providing their own bags at the store?  Do you use reusable bags?  Is 5 cents an unreasonable fee for a plastic bag?  Do the merchants that sell groceries have a duty to provide the consumer with something to carry them home in?

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4 thoughts on “reduce, reuse, and recycle”

  1. I bought some re-usable bags over last summer. They’ve been great. I really like not having hundreds of plastic bags pile-up (you can take them back to get recycled). The only bad thing is remembering to put them back in the car for the next time (Jenn and I randomly go to the store instead of in regular intervals). So it is nice to have the option that stores still offer bags and haven’t started charging for it in Ithaca, yet when we forget our re-usable bags at home. They’ve held up really well, especially the insulated bag for our cold groceries.
    I think retailers should charge for plastic bags in their stores, but 5 cents each may be a bit high. That seems more like a penalty than convenience fee. It’s a small step towards sustainability since most people will not make the change until they are financially hurt by not doing so.

  2. Excellent point Zane. We have them as well, unfortunately I’m not proud to say that while I would love to use them… I aways forget because our trips to the store are random and unplanned. We do reuse both the plastic and paper bags we have accumulated at the house so in some way they are being reused and recycled. I would like to start consistently using my cloth bags though. And composting food scraps is awesome, it is gold for the garden too.

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