reusable cloth bag; sf environmentDid you ever have one of those mornings when you woke up to find that one of your habits came home with you? It happened to me the other day. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes and put the water on for tea, there it was, languishing over the back of a kitchen chair: another reusable bag.

Most bags are easy to refuse, but this one certainly had its charm. There was the allure of the soft  blue recycled fabric, not to mention the colorful webbing of the handles (also made of recycled materials) that flirted with me and Sven when we first saw it. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment purchased 7,000 of these bags in a variety of colors for distribution for free free as part of the educational campaign for the City’s Checkout Bag Ordinance which went into effect on October 1.

The purpose of this legislation is to encourage customers to bring their own checkout bags, in order to reduce the impact of disposable bags to the City and the environment.

All businesses are now required to charge a minimum of 10 cents per new bag issued at checkout. By bringing or declining bags, customers can avoid the fees. Some establishments have been ahead of the “checkout bag” curve for years offering customers a refund for each receptacle brought and used. Creating a new habit of grabbing reusable bags whenever one leaves the house is still a stretch for many, but there are ways to make it easy while reducing clutter from the accumulation of disposable single-use bags.

But lets get back to the new bag. Technically, it was a swag bag containing organic, fair trade and biodynamic goodies from sponsors of the newly created Friends of SF Environment, the new nonprofit arm of the city agency. It was a benefit of membership that contained, shall we say, nice benefits.

When I went to introduce said bag to its siblings hanging on the back of the kitchen door, an idea washed over me. Wondering how many bags were in our collection, I gathered them up and lay them out for a group portrait. Twenty bags carpeted the floor. Only six had been purchased with intention, the oldest of which I’ve owned since the mid 1980s. The rest have come into our lives as gifts via friends, fundraising efforts we’ve supported, or events we’ve attended. As I put them away, I noticed two bags, camouflaged amidst the aprons. New tally: 22.

collection of reusable bags

I’m a tad embarrassed now. While this struck me as an excessive number of singular pieces of schlepping apparatus, the truth of the matter is every one of them gets used. The old-timer, from a family farm in my hometown in NJ, is the designated collection receptacle for egg and plastic produce cartons to be recycled back to the farm from which we purchase a biweekly box of food. It gets filled again on pickup days. There are bags used when we travel – one ChicoBag for laundry collection and several thin cotton bags that hold small or delicate items in our luggage – and bags I use day-to-day for work and errands. There’s a small bag that lives on a doorknob, and its sole purpose is to hold reusable produce bags. But the most regularly used are for grocery and farmer’s market shopping. Plenty of spares are on hand when the workhorses are in the laundry for their twice-monthly washing. Yes, it’s imperative to wash reusuable bags as one would wash linens and clothes!

To keep the bag jamboree under control when moments of weakness arise, I have a practice of triaging the collection whenever a new one comes in. Bags we don’t use are donated to local nonprofits. For goodness sakes, a girl’s gotta manage her bag habits!

Bad habits are disposable. - SF Environment