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reusable bags

A free reusable bag from a local store

Here’s a question: Is it morally or socially acceptable to use a product for just 20 minutes but have it linger for a thousand years in our environment? Most of us would agree: NO! However, this is the situation we face with our dependence upon single-use plastic bags.

Just how dependent are we? Across America, we toss out a hundred billion polyethylene bags EVERY YEAR. Only a very small percentage of plastic bags are recycled; the remaining bags enter our landfills or clog up our waterways and oceans, where they irreversibly alter ecosystems and marine life.

Why should you bring your own bag every time you shop? If the stats in the first paragraph were not scary enough, how about these? Renowned 5 Gyres Institute estimates that there are currently 268,000 tons of plastic floating in our oceans made up of plastic bags and single use water bottles. While many of us have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the gigantic plastic patch found between Hawaii and California), there are actually four other plastic gyres swirling in our oceans, and all are growing rapidly.

A host of states and many countries have made progressive change towards banning single-use bags. To find out more about plastic ban legislation in your state, go to Ban the Bag for current information. To get excited about the progress being made for plastic bag bans around the world, check out this cool interactive map.

Committing to reusing bags is not just a quick fix. Instead, it is indicative of a larger behavioral shift towards thinking beyond our immediate needs and being conscious of the long-term effects of our daily actions. So, how can you make this shift? Make it easy for yourself and keep a few reusable bags handy at all times: in your purse, your car (not your trunk), a backpack, or wherever fits your lifestyle. If you need to purchase reusable bags, check out your local thrift store to find reused ones, or check with your favorite local stores to see if they offer a free bag to customers. If you need to buy some bags as a gift or just need to feel fancy, Chico Bags, Eco Bags, and Project Green Bag offer great products. You can find more tips here about shopping without plastic bags.

Want to get even crazier? Take your BYOBag commitment one step further and find alternatives to other types of plastic bags too: reusable lunch bags, produce bags, and bulk bags are all available. Solutions like this are a clean, green way to reduce your plastic impact and shift your habits. Also, how cute are these lunch bags?

reusable bags for lunch

Ditch the plastic for lunch with reusable lunch bags.

reusable produce bags

Reusable produce bags are another great solution to the plastic conundrum.

If you’re like us,  you probably have a collection of plastic bags under the kitchen sink or in the pantry just waiting to be recycled, reused or… crafted? For some innovative DIY projects, check out Saved by Love Creations and Pinterest: Reuse Plastic Bags. Who knew you could do so much with plastic bags?

Snack Taxis image and mesh bag image from Flickr; reusable bag image from Kanu Hawaii

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Perhaps many of us have a love-hate relationship with public transportation? Waiting for buses and delayed train schedules can certainly be frustrating, but choosing public transport whenever possible is a great step to take for the planet and your bank account.

How much of a difference can public transportation make on your carbon footprint? Almost a third of our nation’s footprint is guzzled by the transportation sector. Of that chunk, individual vehicles are responsible for 64%! This means that changing the way you move around town is one of the quickest ways to cut your footprint down to a manageable size.

san francisco bus

Get on the bus!

The American Public Transportation Association estimates that one person can reduce his daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds a year, just by switching from driving to public transit; this translates to 10% of the entire household’s emissions. If you can’t get on the bus or train, carpooling is another great option that saves you money and time while dropping your emissions impact significantly.

Which forms of transit are the best for the planet? The US Department of Transportation calculates that heavy rail transit, like metros and subways, produce roughly 75% less in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-mile than single-occupancy vehicles, while light rail systems produce 57% less, and bus transit 32% less. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley also conducted a full life-cycle assessment for public transit and found that even when taking into account emissions from infrastructure, manufacturing, and upkeep, public transportation still provides consumers a greener option. Innovations in hybrid or renewable technology continues to make public transport ever greener, giving us more reasons than ever to ditch the car whenever possible.

As an added feel-good bonus, public transportation has also been shown to help conserve land, reduce travel time, and spur economic development. Since public transit eliminates the need for large parking lots and highways, businesses can be closer together, helping to reduce travel time between destinations. Instead of being chopped up by ugly freeways, public transportation helps create more close-knit communities where people are more comfortable traveling on foot or on bicycles. Foot traffic is instrumental in the success of small retail and food spots, so next time you have the choice to take the bus, remember that you’re helping support the local economy thrive on various levels.

Perhaps most importantly to many of us, taking the rail, bus, or ferry can also make a huge positive change for your budget. Vehicle maintenance, parking, and fuel costs add up quickly. See how much money you could save by using public transportation with the APTA’s Fuel Savings Calculator. One writer on Treehugger shares how he has saved about $10,000 each year by using public transport. Even though public transit may require a little extra time and planning, it has the big potential to save you some serious cash for more organic food, sustainable wine or gadgets.

Want more information about the benefits of public transit? Start here: 

San Francisco bus image from Flickr

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carpooling and rideshareThink carpooling is relegated to busy parents shuffling their kids to school? Not anymore — carpooling is gaining traction as a great green weapon for your impact-reducing arsenal. Coordinating rides with friends, family, and coworkers will solidify your social networks (the real-life ones), help you save money, and reduce your carbon emissions.

Transportation is responsible for a huge chunk of the total carbon footprint in the United States — latest figures estimate about 30%. According to the smart folks at the EPA, this makes transportation the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, second only to the energy industry. But how can we reduce this huge percentage? Just like your mama taught you, the solution is to share.

Cars emit roughly one pound of CO2 per mile, so sharing the carbon weight by carpooling with even one other person will automatically reduce your impact by half! According to Rideshare, each carpool with four riders can reduce greenhouse gases by about 12,000 pounds annually, which is the equivalent of 500 gallons of gasoline. Aside from decreasing your emissions and fuel costs, carpooling offers other bonuses like decreased need for vehicle maintenance. And if you are not the one driving, you can make new friends, finish up a few minutes of work, or make up for last night’s party with a little nap.

carpooling and rideshare

Does your city have carpool lanes to reward drivers?

Check out your city and/or state department of transportation to learn about carpool options in your area. Find vanshare, rideshare, or other options to help build your commute with neighbors, or start your own car share program in your community. Most big cities reward carpoolers with HOV lanes to accelerate the journey, special parking spaces, or discounted rates for parking.

Not the organizing type? There’s an app to help with that! These carpooling and car share apps will help you jumpstart your green driving routine by connecting cars with drivers and passengers in your community:

  • Carma Carpooling: An easy app that lets users choose their carpool in cities around the world
  • Zimride: Carpool solutions for university and corporate networks
  • Carpooling.com: Europe’s most popular carpooling website, now available in the US
  • Rideshare: Carpooling and fleet solutions for office, campus and more!
  • Share rides via Lyft, Uber, Ridescout and Sidecar

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