Frankford resident Tiff Krajci says she supports a single-use plastic bag ban. But, those bags were just the right size for some small trash disposals.
“The bags were very useful,” said the 31-year-old, who used them for scooping cat litter and picking up dog feces. “They were never thrown out, in my house at least, and they always found a way to be used.”
Now that full enforcement of Philadelphia’s plastic bag ban has started, what can you use as a substitute to line your small trash cans if you’re trying to avoid buying plastic bags? Dry cleaner bags are exempt from the ban and could be crafted into a liner, but they’re not very thick. Some big box stores are still giving out those thicker plastic bags, which are labeled as multi-use and recyclable, but isn’t that still creating new plastic? What if you’re not sold on the cost of compostable bags for picking up after your dog?
Even for residents ready to bid drawers, closets, and under-sink cabinets full of plastic bags adieu, the switch since implementation began in July has led to moments of anxiety, anger, and guilt. (You left your grocery bag at home, again!)
As bag stashes peter out, Philadelphians like Krajci are finding creative substitutes and repurposing the plastic that’s already out there — turns out there’s a lot. City officials estimate Philadelphians go through one billion of these bags a year.
For Krajci, the cost of biodegradable bags can add up. Other residents described guilt over buying new bags.
So Krajci’s solution has been to collect the “beer bags” she finds on the street, in the park, and, alas, on trees to give them one more use before they head to the landfill.
“I feel that’s like killing two birds with one stone because I’m also cleaning up what’s flying around in the neighborhood,” she said.
Spring Garden resident Holly Wright, 67, found bread bags are the perfect size for picking up after her Labrador retriever. The plastic sleeves newspapers are delivered in are also a good alternative.
“Friends who get the paper save theirs for me and then they just give me like 20 at a time,” she said.
That’s right, one person’s dream bag stash is another person’s trash.
Graduate Hospital resident Ryan Platt, 29, said that when he began cutting his plastic use years ago, he began tapping into the secondhand plastic bag supply. He’d go to Facebook neighborhood groups and ask people for their extra plastic bags, which people would happily get rid of.
New Jersey will be implementing a statewide single-use plastic bag ban in May, but the supply won’t completely dry up as many Pennsylvania suburbs still allow these bags.
“There are other people who are in and around Philadelphia who are still going to have these extra bags, no need to get them brand new,” said Platt.
The city has stressed the real consequences of the constant flow of crisp new bags on streets and waterways. Residents often incorrectly try to recycle these bags. And while the ban bag has also been a challenge for businesses that now have to spend more on paper bags, require customers to bring their own, or face fines starting at $150 for ignoring the ban, residents are making a good-faith effort to cut back.
But who among us hasn’t walked into the supermarket without our reusable bags?
“I understand why the ban is there,” said Abdel Fonseca, 39, of Point Breeze, but he gets angry when “I don’t have a bag and I have to walk with a bunch of stuff under my arm.”
People who have trained themselves to remember to bring their reusable totes insist on the efficacy of the spare bag method: Keep extra reusable bags everywhere, and they mean everywhere — bike basket, backpack, purse, car trunk — to build the habit.
One resident suggests keeping store discount cards in your tote to increase the chances you’ll remember to bring the bag.
Of course, we’re only human and bound to forget as we adjust. Should you find yourself sans bags at the grocery store and you have a car, one resident suggests skipping the bag purchase and taking items home Costco-style. It’ll take more trips, but residents suggest loading the car without bags.
Roxborough’s Tracy Johnson, 40, described being nervous about costs at the start of the ban and was saving old bags for future use, but now she’s adjusted.
“It’s actually nicer to have those,” she said, “because in the past I was just using I didn’t realize how many bags I was actually using. Now I feel a little cleaner about it, if that makes sense.”