Simple Steps
No more sandwich bags

#2 – FREE sandwich bags

There is no getting away from the fact that plastic is a massive problem. This Simple Step is an easy switch that you can make to reduce the amount of plastic that you buy and use and save money in the process!


The problem with plastic

Plastic poses a serious threat to our planet and in particular to our oceans.

80% of marine litter is plastic1 and it is estimated that over 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is added to the oceans each year2 – this is roughly equivalent to one bin lorry full of rubbish being emptied into the oceans every minute. Scientists predict that if things continue at the current rate, by 2050 the oceans will contain more tonnes of plastic than fish.

Dolphin with a plastic bag
Dolphin with a plastic bag at Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. Photo by Jedimentat44 on Flickr


Do you know how plastic bags are made?

They are made using oil. Aside from the wars and corruption associated with the oil industry, it is also an environmental disaster: according to Greenpeace, it is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after coal and it is responsible for about 27% of the CO2 that we release into the atmosphere.3 And, as supplies are running out, oil companies are looking for new sources of the precious commodity, in the tar sands of Canada, in deep ocean waters and in the pristine and fragile Arctic wilderness.4

We tend to think of oil being used to power our vehicles. But it is also used to make plastic.

oil used to make plastic
From the National Geographic Magazine

It takes the same amount of oil to produce 8.7 plastic bags as it does to drive one car a distance of one kilometre5 And the problem with plastic doesn’t end there. It is not just the amount of plastic that is the problem. And it isn’t just the fact that it is made using oil. Plastic takes a very long time to decompose, with some plastics taking over 1,000 years. 

The plastic in the ocean breaks down into micro plastics, which are then ingested by marine life.

“Through a process called photodegradation, plastic bags that are exposed to sunlight can break down into millions of small, confetti-sized particles. Consumption of these particles by marine animals can lead to starvation, malnutrition, dehydration, and eventual death, as the plastic is unable to be digested by their bodies.”6

Scientists reckon there are over 5 trillion of these particles floating around in our seas and oceans right now, and they are responsible for the death of 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine animals each year. And it doesn’t just end with the animals dying – their decomposed bodies release the plastic back into the water, where it is digested by other animals.7

And the worst thing about all of this, plastic production is on the increase:

Plastic production increasing
From the National Geographic Magazine

Plastic bags are a major contributor to this problem. 3.4 million tonnes of plastic carrier bags are produced in the EU each year, equivalent to the weight of more than two million cars!8 Most plastic bags are used for around 15 minutes and only 9% are recycled worldwide.9


So, what can we do?

Since the 5p charge was introduced for plastic bags in England in October 2015, plastic bag usage has dropped by 85%. Seven billion plastic bags were handed out in England in the year before the charge was introduced, and this dropped to 500 million in the six months afterwards.10 A huge reduction. But there is more to be done.

The best way to reduce the number of plastic bags you use is to take reusable bags with you when you go shopping. Most supermarkets sell reusable bags now and you can get them in all kinds of materials and styles.

Keep some large reusable bags in your car and a couple of small, compact bags in your handbag, so you always have one to hand when you need one.

Most of us are aware of reusable bags and use them regularly. But are you one of those people who is still buying sandwich bags or freezer bags from the supermarket? These handy little plastic bags are great for sandwiches (who knew?!) and for freezing anything from bread rolls to chopped banana that is about to go off (great for smoothies).

But there is no need to buy rolls of brand new plastic bags:

If you buy supermarket bread, you have a perfectly good, food-safe, plastic bag going spare every time you finish a loaf of bread.

Stop throwing these bags away!

Keep them and use them as freezer bags or as sandwich bags.

The same applies to any other plastic-bag style packaging that your food comes in.

Do you buy frozen peas in resealable zip bags? They are perfect for reusing – as sandwich bags or to freeze other foods. You can use them again and again. Simply wash after use and you are good to go. Then there margarine tubs, ice cream tubs, plastic takeaway boxes, jars, normal tupperware.

There is really no need to buy brand new rolls of plastic bags to store your food in. Instead of throwing away the food-safe packaging that other food comes in, reuse it.

Follow this Simple Step to save money, reduce the demand for sandwich bags (which will in turn reduce the number produced in the first place) and to reduce your household waste.

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