Sunday, July 07, 2013

Plastic-free produce

In Australia, green bags are pretty ubiquitous. They have been since I was a study abroad student here, way back in 2004, and this was something I thought was very cool and progressive. I still do! I especially love getting green bags (which are often not green, but that's just what they're called) for free at events and things. Very handy. We keep some in the car, in case we forget to bring our main stash with us when we go shopping. We still get plastic bags sometimes, and actually have an embarrassingly large stash of them under the kitchen sink. We use them in our rubbish bin (which is actually just a bucket), but that only uses up one per week. What to do with the bulk of them is a bit of a mystery - I suppose we'll keep them under the sink until we get so good at remembering (enough) green bags that we never get plastics and we run out.

There are lots of other roads that plastic takes into our house, though. I was flicking through Facebook a fortnight or so ago when I saw an ad for Plastic-Free July. I made a pledge - avoid the top four single-use plastic items for the whole month. Drinking straws is easy - we never eat takeaways and thus avoid places where straws are provided. Plastic bottles is also fairly straightforward - in a regular month, we don't often go anywhere to purchase drinks. We drink tap water at home and at work, and if we do go out for an adventure we bring a stainless steel bottle of water with us. Coffee cup lids are a little trickier, mainly because getting them is so automatic. But, when I go for coffee (actually, chai) with people, we have in almost 100% of the time. So I can do this one easily if I avoid the two or three coffee places at JCU that serve only in takeaway cups. The final item in the top 4 is plastic bags. My overly-long intro to this post talks about grocery bags. But what about other plastic bags?

Produce bags are more common in our grocery- and market-trips than plastic shopping bags. Until May, we had been using them daily as Andy's sandwich bags. He would even bring them home to re-use if they were clean enough. And we use them every now and then in places where we might otherwise use cling wrap. But for Andy's birthday I got him a most excellent sandwich container - plastic! but re-usable - that is big enough to fit our homemade bread. So we began accumulating produce bags, too.

I was inspired by a link from Plastic-Free July to a tutorial on re-usable produce bags. I looked at it, got the gist, and then made them on a Saturday morning. I used a piece of mesh fabric - mosquito-net style - that we had laying around. I didn't really measure the fabric, but cut it into different sizes.  Working slowly, with plenty of interruptions, it took me about 3 hours to make about 8 bags. I think I'd be quicker next time, now that I know what I'm doing.

I used yarn instead of ribbons for drawstrings, and I love the rainbow I've got to shop with.

We tried them out with stuff from the garden, because Andy was skeptical - he thought they would be annoying.
Yellow passion fruits, yum. 

But the next day we brought them to the markets. We couldn't use them for the first half of the markets. I was disappointed - first we bought things that we don't put in bags, like bananas, and there were heaps of stalls selling items pre-bagged. But in the second half of the market we got to use them, which was very exciting for me! (Simple pleasures?)

As I was making them, I thought about how multi-use these bags are. They are basically the same as a delicates bag that you might use in the washing machine. When I posted a picture of the bags on my Facebook page (have you liked it yet?) Cate and Melissa both talked about using them for toys and crayons and other things. Andy came up with a good use for them after our tomatoes were eaten by a mouse or rat.
Protecting ripening tomatoes from a hungry pest.

In the two weeks since making them, we have put them to use several times. They store fairly small, so I can keep some in my bag, and they weigh about 10 grams each so they don't add much to the cost of produce. They were worth making with the free ingredients I had on hand, but I think I would even go out of my way to get more material.


Claire Virgona said...

I LOVE this idea!! These are so my next project.. and using them on fruit trees- genius!

We seem to collect 'green' bags because if we have to do any impromptu shopping that we can't carry we grab another one... luckily they're perfect for donating things to the charity shop in and leaving. Having said that we're still getting through the store of plastic bags we accumulated before switching.. I use them in the bins and as gloves when touching gross things or chucking out broken glass or as my husbands lunch bag (his idea) or to pack dirty clothes on holidays etc etc. I think I even made a pom pom out of them once in high school! One day we'll get through them...

Kari said...

These bags are great! Like you, we have a stash of supermarket plastic bags as bin liners but use recyclable most of the time. However, Mr B also uses sandwich bags and I use the small type you get fruit/veg in to carry lunch containers that might leak. I need to try harder to find alternatives.

Mel said...

Your produce bags are such a great idea! I always take my "green" bags shopping and try to use as few plastic bags as possible when buying fruit and veg but some things just aren't practical to carry around as loose items. I love how you have put them to use in the garden too.

urban vegan said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of doing a plastic-cleanse! It' s stunning to see how ubiquitoous it is.

Love your DIY bags. I actual ordered some years ago and I keep them in my car. When I remember, I use them for produce. They are also great for straining vegan creme fraiche--and quite frankly when clean, for mopping my brow after a long run in this heat & humidity.

San Franciso has a no plastic bags law--wish Philly would do the same--or force businesses to buy biodegradable plastic.

Joey said...

Clever stuff! I'm going to have to make me some of those bags for picking up unbagged supermarket fruit and veg. Alas, it seems most of the supermarket stuff is prebagged now, so there's no chance of getting away without using plastic.

Is there anywhere near you that recycles plastic bags? I found a place a bit of a trek away, but at least the cupboard under my sink gets emptied occasionally!

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