Bagging Plastic (and Paper!) with Your Own Reusable Bags

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays]

Pink plastic flamingoes with a plastic bag.

Since they don't biodegrade, plastic bags end up in lots of strange places. (cc image courtesy InfinityGivingCircle via flickr)

“Paper or plastic?” Those used to be our only choices at the grocery store checkout line. Fortunately, our corporate awareness about the environmental damage both of these choices can do is growing: an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are needed to manufacture the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use annually; only 10-15% percent of paper bags are recycled each year; toxic chemicals are used and released in the production of both kinds of bags; paper bags cannot completely biodegrade in landfills; and plastic bags never biodegrade.

The increasingly popular alternative to throwaway grocery bags is the reusable bag, most often made out of tough canvas. These bags are more attractive, sturdier, and gentler on creation that either plastic or paper bags. And creating personalized reusable bags for your church’s members to tote their groceries in can be a fun, unifying, and Gospel-spreading creation care activity for your church community. Here’s how to get started:

Design It
The cloth bags your church members will soon be carrying around town will do more than just keep plastic bags out of sea turtles’ stomachs and off of landfill piles. The bags can also serve as a source of information on your church community. Like any sort of pamphlet, button, or postcard you would hand out to an interested, potential church attendee, the bags can display your church’s name, contact information, and even a logo or mission statement. This invites those who see or receive a bag to come learn more about your community and the One it serves, but it also indicates that one of your church’s concerns is the health of creation. You may chose to emphasize this concern with what you put on the bag (the logo of your church’s creation care ministry, for example, or a scripture verse that emphasizes creation), or you may want the design to remain more generic.

Buy It
As always, check with local printers first to see if any of them have the capability of printing the bags for you. If you must look

Reusable canvas bag with decoration.

Tote more for longer with a more responsible bag choice: the reusable bag! (cc image courtesy jennecy via flickr)

beyond your hometown, keep several key points in mind as you strive to make this activity as gentle as possible on creation:

  • Materials: Seek out producers that use organic or recycled cotton to produce their bags. Conventionally grown cotton is a pesticide hog, requiring, according to some estimates, more synthetic pesticides than any other crop, including some of the pesticides most hazardous to humans. Organic cotton still uses a lot of water, like conventional cotton, but its production—without synthetic pesticides and herbicides—is more humane for farm workers and gentler on the earth. Recycled cotton requires no intensive farming and keeps cotton fibers out of landfills.
  • Process: Many people become frustrated with the reusable bag trend when they discover that many of the bags are made in overseas sweatshops where employees aren’t paid fairly. Predictably, nothing in life—or creation care—is perfect, but there are options for purchasing ethically produced reusable bags. ECOBAGS, the Acme brand of bags from, and Green-Kit reusable shopping bags are a few of the online options you have for bags that are good all around.

Use It
It’s up to you and your church’s leadership to decide how the church’s reusable bags will be distributed—whether they will be purchased or handed out free to folks who come to church. But however you get them into church members’ hands, you can ensure better and more consistent use of the bags by also distributing some tips:

  • Keep reusable bags in your car or close to the front door of your house so you don’t forget them when you go to the store.
  • Clean reusable bags frequently. You can include instructions on proper cleaning and care for the particular kind of reusable bag your church distributes.
  • Limit each bag to a particular use—groceries, gym, library books—to avoid contamination.

You may also want to include some factoids about bags to get church members more interested in using them:

  • Worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. Tied end to end that’s enough to circle the earth 63 times.
  • Plastic bags cause over 100,000 sea turtle and other marine animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.
  • Many stores will make a small credit to your grocery bill or a small donation to a local charity when you provide your own bag.
  • Each reusable shopping bag used has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of plastic bags over its lifetime.

Share It
Get the bags out of the church’s doors and into your local community! Parades, fairs, VBS, or any of the community-building events suggested on Flourish would be appropriate venues for distributing your church’s new cloth bags—both to encourage others to take care of God’s creation and to encourage them to come meet the very God who created it all!

Related Posts at Flourish
Rethinking Your Drinking: The story behind bottled water
A Green Mama on Learning to Live Wisely and Well

Further Reading – Not just a marketplace, this site is top of the charts for facts on what makes reusable bags better than the rest. – Bags in every style and color, including ones made according to Fair Trade standards.
Paper or Plastic? – This helpful little Washington Post article wraps the argument up in a reusable bag.

Speak Your Mind