Preparing for the Ban: 3 Alternatives to Using Single-Use Plastic Bags

Sustainable Danville Area – Tip of the Month

By Loren McDonald

On August 29, the California State Legislature passed SB 270, a bill that will prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores. Governor Brown, signed the bill on September 30th, but the American Progressive Bag Alliance (a coalition of manufacturers) have taken steps to gather signatures and qualify for a referendum to repeal SB 270 on the November 2016 ballot.”


According to Californians Against Waste, there are currently 98 ordinances in the state that already ban plastic bags in 122 cities and counties. Locally Walnut Creek passed such an ordinance in March of this year and in August, the Danville Town Council has directed staff to prepare a local measure for review. Learn more about this at and send comments and questions to


So What’s The Problem With Plastic Bags?


Single-use plastic bags are convenient for consumers and inexpensive for owners of stores, however, their drawbacks are significant and include:


  • Plastic bags are believed to take hundreds of years to decompose.
  • In California, CalRecycle estimates that only about 3% of plastic bags are recycled.
  • They are a key source of litter, partially driven by their light weight and ease of flying away.
  • According to the Worldwatch Institute, each year tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals, and turtles die from contact with ocean-borne plastic bags.
  • They are made from non-renewable natural gas and petroleum.


3 Alternatives to Plastic Bags


One of the issues with single-use plastic bags is that they aren’t just used to carry items home from the supermarket, fast-food restaurants or pharmacies. Once at home, many consumers like to re-use these bags for other purposes, primarily to line trash baskets and for dog waste.


The following are some alternatives to the plastic bag for the above common uses:


  1. Re-usable shopping bags: With or without bans on plastic bags, consumers have been adopting the use of reusable bags in a big way, appreciating their larger size, durability and strength.


The biggest challenge for most consumers to make the switch is to remember to bring them into the store. Here are a few tips to consider:


  • Buy several bags and keep at least three or four in your vehicles.
  • When you get out of your car to go shopping, simply grab the bags and go. After a few months, this process will become second nature, and you will rarely forget to take them.
  • Wash your bags on a regular basis. Use soap and water when washing by hand – many can be tossed into your washing machine.
  • Preferably, purchase a ‘Made in the USA’ cloth-type bag, made of cotton or similar materials. Alternatively, opt for a bag made of recycled materials.


  1. Bi-degradable dog waste bags: One of the most common complaints about plastic bag bans is from people who like to use them for their dog waste. But if you put your dog’s waste into a plastic bag, then A) That bag is definitely not useable; and more importantly B) It is no longer recyclable.


The best alternative is to purchase biodegradable dog waste bags. Depending on the material used, biodegradable bags will break down typically within a few months or 1-2 years. They are widely available including most pet supply stores and online retailers.


If you buy in bulk, biodegradable bags only cost about a penny more than non-biodegradable bags. If you use 2 bags per day you would pay less than $4 per year (the cost of one latte).


  1. Paper or biodegradable compost and trash bags. A key problem with using plastic bags in trash bins and baskets in your kitchen, den, bathrooms and garage, is they inhibit the decomposition of items in the bag in the landfill.


A better approach then is to reuse compostable paper bags from the supermarket or other store. Even better, however, is to purchase biodegradable trash bags. Depending on the brand and quantity you purchase, 13-gallon kitchen or smaller 3-gallon biodegradable bags will typically cost just a few pennies more per bag than the traditional plastic trash bag. Biodegradable trash bags are a bit harder to find in your local store than plastic trash bags, so I like to order several boxes at a time from, which will last me for a year or so.


Like the end of using chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol spray cans in the late 80s, single-use plastic bags are rapidly being phased out across the U.S. and world. The transition away from plastic bags for both merchants and consumers will be an easy one, as the alternatives are many and widely available today.


We want to hear about your alternatives to plastic bags, write to us at or visit us at



Loren McDonald is a Danville resident, member of the Sustainable Danville Area and blogs about green issues at

Reprinted by permission: Danville Today News


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