decluttering diary, not easy being green

Small steps to reducing plastic bag use

During a recent clutter-busting session in my bedroom, I collected a huge plastic bag full of… plastic bags.

“WTF.” I thought. “These things really pile up when you’re not looking.”

The only reason I need plastic bags in my room is to line my wastepaper basket, and to bag the occasional item that is going out with me but isn’t going into my bag. Out of the huge bag, very few were actually big enough to fit my wastepaper basket. Most were small ones that were probably used to bag a bar of chocolate. Which is ridiculous.

I got a muffin at the bakery the other day and I was astounded as how many plastic bags the staff deems necessary to get your purchase packed! First, they bag your item in individual clear bags, and then they bag that into another plastic bag with handles. Again, if there are more than two items, I can understand the extra bag, but all I got was one muffin that I was planning to tear into as soon as I left the shop.

A simple Google search on plastic bags yield much information about how something we take forgranted is destroying the environment. Just stop for a moment and think about how many plastic bags you encountered today. Did you know that they’re virtually indestructible?

A Facebook Cause I support is called “Drop The Plastic Bag“. For those of you who are too lazy to click over and read, here are the facts:

1. Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.

2. According to the EPA, over 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year.

3. According to The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. (Estimated cost to retailers is $4 billion)

4. According to the industry publication Modern Plastics, Taiwan consumes 20 billion bags a year—900 per person.

5. According to Australia’s Department of Environment, Australians consume 6.9 billion plastic bags each year—326 per person. An estimated .7% or 49,600,000 end up as litter each year.

6. Over 100,000 birds, whales, seals and turtles worldwide are killed by plastic rubbish every year

7. Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

8. According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere from Spitsbergen 78° North [latitude] to Falklands 51° South [latitude].

–Taken from Drop The Plastic Bag

The part that kills me the most is animals suffering because of dumb humans. Imagine this poor little baby green turtle having to worry about getting baggied in the water, in addition to everything else young animals have to face in the big cruel world.


Like the rest of the world, plastic bags are ingrained into the shopping culture. While Malaysia is still a long way from eliminating them from our consumer lifestyle altogether, there are several small steps we can take to reduce their usage.

Carrying a reusable bag isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Most of us already carry some kind of bag when we go out. I’ll be the first to admit that I do feel awkward shoving large items into my bag at the counter, so I’ll probably accept that plastic bag if my bag isn’t going to hold the purchase.

But do we really need a small plastic bag when we buy a bar of chocolate or one measly can of tuna? The counter staff will give you that bag anyway – because they are pre-programmed to do it and because the customer expects it. Just tell them you don’t need one, but don’t forget to get your receipt!

There are days when my mind is on something else at the check-out counter and I forget not to accept a plastic bag for something I could have easily slipped into my bag. So be aware. Small items, magazines, books, etc, can easily go into a bag you’re already carrying, be it your everyday bag or a necessary plastic bag already containing a previous purchase.

If you can’t completely eliminate the plastic bag from your shopping, aim to only pick up just one for that trip. If you’re prone to seeing stray plastic bags dance across your room like tumbleweed, accumulating less of them will soon make a difference. It worked for me. Now I can’t find a plastic bag when I actually need one!

Author: Georgette Tan

writer . poet . introvert . NSFW hand letterer . equatorial eclectic

7 Comments on “Small steps to reducing plastic bag use

  1. Plastic bags arent very popular in Aus, in supermarkets, if you buys less than 2 or 3 items they will not provide a bag.

    Sometimes they ask “do you need a bag?” but like any typical malaysians I usually say YES PLEASE. At least I said please.

    Many other places like bakeries and food take aways prefer to use paper bags.

    Come to think of it..

    Isnt paper bag doing much worse than plastic bg when you talk about environmental issues??

  2. Good post, Gette.

    Supermarkets here are beginning to sell reuseable bags, including Cold Storage and Tesco, with their logos on the bags, of course.

    Yesterday, I was at my regular pharmacy and the woman asked the cashier to give me a red bag. I thought she meant the usual red plastic bag but it turned out to be a reuseable bag. She also told me if I returned with the bag to carry my future purchases of RM100/- and above, I would get 50 sen off for everytime I do so. It’s an incentive to use the bag, and since this is my regualr pharmacy for both my mum’s and my own meds, and our purchases are very often more than RM100/-, it’s an excellent deal for all concerned – the environment, the pharmacy, and me, too.

  3. robin: What about x and y? Isn’t that more important than whether you brought your shopping home in paper or plastic? What about z? Isn’t that more important than the environment? We can go on and on but what are we doing about it besides splitting hair? What about how Australians and Malaysians are dealing with the same issues in different ways, or not dealing with it at all? What about, what about, what about?

    I’m not interested in “What about…” arguments. One issue doesn’t eliminate the other. You just pick the one you’re applying to your own life and try to convince other people that it’s a good idea.

    gid: :-D

    chet: Thanks. I’ve been talking to the proprietor of a second hand book store here and he’s keen on the idea of providing reusable book bags that will give the customer a small discount if they bring it back the next time.

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