The frequent grocery-store question of paper or plastic has a trendy new answer: “Neither — I brought my own.”

The frequent grocery-store question of paper or plastic has a trendy new answer: “Neither — I brought my own.”

Springfield resident Nicola Evans figures she avoids using 20 plastic bags a week.

“We use the reusable bags because the production for making plastic bags is terrible on the environment,” Evans said. “Plus, they are everywhere. They are trash and in the ocean and just everywhere.”

Evans, her husband and son use only reusable shopping bags. The Evans family goes shopping two or three times per week, and Nicola Evans says she can fit as many items into one reusable bag as in three or four plastic bags.

Dave Walters, manager of the waste reduction section for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, says plastic bags are a two-pronged problem. The first is that bags are litter and blow around. The second is plastic bags are made from a non-renewable resource. Plastic grocery bags are petroleum-based. 

Walters says the EPA is starting a pilot program later this year in Lake County that requires retailers to take back plastic bags to be recycled. The No. 1 item made from recycled plastic bags is decking. 

In Springfield, Wal-Mart and Schnucks accept plastic bags for recycling. The County Market in Chatham will also take the bags back.

The EPA reports that plastic bags were introduced to grocery stores in 1977, but recycling did not start until 1990.

Winona Dulka of Springfield considers herself environmentally conscious and carries reusable bags as well as a basket.

“I have a Longaberger Medium Market Basket that I take everywhere. I use it when I fly, ’cause it is easy for security and it holds everything,” Dulka said. “I also take it to the pharmacy because they are really bad about using too many bags.”

Dulka says she is disappointed that stores do not give a credit for bringing your own bag. She says Meijer for a time gave a 5-cent credit for bringing your own bags. Just two weeks after Dulka bought the Meijer brand reusable bags, the store discontinued the credit nationwide.

“I would love to see all the grocery stores in Springfield give a credit to people who bring your own bag,” she said. “What’s a nickel? It will help them sell their reusable bags, and then they won’t have to pay for plastic ones.”

Jen Dillman of Springfieldmoms.org wrote “101 Tips for Living Green in Springfield.” Tip number 97 is teaching your children about reusable bags. Dillman recommends the book “My Bag and Me” to help children understand. 

“We use reusable bags because plastic bags don’t break down,” Dillman said.

On average, 10 billion plastic grocery bags are used in the United States each year.
Springfield store managers estimate that they go through thousands of plastic bags per week. 

Evans suggests leaving the reusable bags in the car all the time to make the transition easier. 

“It was harder on my husband to remember them than me,” she said. “He was always leaving his cart full of groceries and running to the car to get the bags. It took a couple of months to transition.”

Jennifer Marrow of Chatham uses an Ikea reusable tote because it is made of a sturdy, tarp-like material and holds four times as much as regular reusable bags. It could hold as much as 16 plastic bags if it isn’t too heavy to carry, Marrow said.

Ikea and Aldi are two stores that charge for plastic bags if the customer does not bring their own bags. 

“It really is a great incentive to bring your own bag,” Marrow said.

Nicole Milstead can be reached at (217) 788-1532 or nicole.milstead@sj-r.com.