Are Reusable Bags Making You Fat?
I'm sure you think that title is cray-cray! But it's based on a study looking at the behavior of shoppers who used reusable bags. It is a head scratcher, but I'll get to that in a second.
First, some background. In California where I live, plastic bags have been banned. As well they should be. Plastic bags create an almost unfathomable amount of waste. Seriously, 1 million plastic bags are used every minute and 1 trillion are used worldwide annually. There are 46,000 plastic bags floating in every square mile of the ocean (Statistic Brain). Plastic bags are literally suffocating the planet.
This has been a long time coming in California, as coastal cities have banned plastic bags for awhile. They are the ones that see all those plastic bags floating in the ocean and washing up on shore first hand. Yuck.
It's something most of us don't even think about if you don't live in an area where the problem is in your face. But it is a simple problem to fix. Just use recycled bags or reusable bags!
So back to the study. Are you ready for this? Researchers from Harvard Business School and Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business discovered shoppers bought more organic food when they grocery shopped with reusable bags — but they also bought more junk food!
How in world do organic food and junk food go together in the same bag?
Consumers using reusable bags bought more organic produce, which makes sense. If you're conscious enough of the environment to use a reusable bag, you probably also know how much better for the environment organic farming practices are. But buying more junk food?
Lead study authors Uma Karmarkar and Bryan Bollinger concluded that the increase in junk food purchases had to do with something called the licensing effect, which is the concept that a prior choice (in this case bringing reusable bags and helping the environment) activates and boosts a positive self-concept, which subsequently licenses the choice of a more self-indulgent option (being worthy of "treats" at the store as a reward).
Raise your hand if you agree that using a reusable bag is NOT deserving of the gluten-free, organic chocolate chip cookies or chips! At least not every time. Using reusable bags won't make you fat if you don't see it as a "special" choice worthy of a reward and just make it a habit!
Honestly, the study was great to read because it reminded me how little encouragement we need to "treat" ourselves. There are so many better ways to treat yourself than junk food, but that's a whole different blog!
Don't let the title scare you. If you haven't made the switch to using reusable bags, you should! Even before any ordinances head your way and force you into it. (I predict there will be a day in the future where plastic bags will be banned everywhere). Heads up though: turning reusable bag use into a habit can take a little work. You are literally conditioned to expect your groceries and items at the store to be bagged up for you. I kept forgetting my bags until I started using the tips below!
8 Tips to becoming a reusable bags pro:
Always have some bags in your car. The only way to accomplish this is to carry the reusable bags right back out to the car after you've unpacked them, or to put the bags right by your purse or keys or something that makes you carry them out to the car the next time you leave the house. Note: There is some debate on this. Studies say that storing your bags in the trunk of the car puts them in a hot environment that can help bacteria grow. I just try to clean them often. If they aren't in the car, I generally forget them! Find the way that works for you.
Put bags in every car you own. Don't just put them in the car you "usually" go grocery shopping in. I promise you that you will need to go to the store in the other car and you will need bags!
Have enough bags! You need more than you think you do. Especially if you are going to more than one store. I pack them all inside one bag to put into the car and also the cart. You can even get cute little hooks to attach the bags to the outside of your cart or use fancy bags designed to fit right inside your cart! It can get serious, folks! I say, don't over-complicate it. But be open to creatively removing any barrier that annoys you enough to stop using reusable bags!
Remember to wash your bags regularly! Because they are getting used over and over, you'll want to clean them. If you don't think you'll be motivated to clean them, just Google "bacteria and resuable bags." The 536,000 results will quickly help you find your missing motivation! I have cloth bags that I throw in the wash with kitchen towels, etc, and two cold pack bags that I wipe down with a towel and disinfectant every so often. Make sure bags are always fully dry before storing them.
- Have bags you use consistently for meats. And use other bags for produce and household items. Write on the bags with a marker if you need help remembering.
Shop everywhere with reusable bags. It is easy to remember to take reusable bags to the grocery store, and it is the most talked about. But aim to use them everywhere. Target, the hardware store...everywhere you go shopping!
Unless you are getting bags for free (if you've got 'em, use 'em!), I highly recommend you only buy organic bags for produce. Cotton and jute use the most pesticides, so don't put your pesticide-free, organic produce in a bag filled with them! We love the reusable bags from The Tote Project because they are made from organic cotton, printed with environmentally friendly inks, and produced in a fair trade-certified factory! (They also donate 20% of profits to Two Wings to help survivors of human trafficking in the United States pursue their dreams.)
- Keep the right attitude. It's ok if you forget your reusable bags. It's ok if you don't find the time to clean them as often as someone else you know. It's ok if they aren't organic right away. It's ok if you forget which bag is for meat. I mean, if you start looking at that whole list suddenly using a reusable bag doesn't feel worthy of a chocolate chip cookie! Instead, just roll with each shopping trip, make the best choices for you, and celebrate every time you do use a reusable bag!
- Tuck a small reusable bag into your purse! There are companies that sell bags that fold up insanely small. You'll always have back-ups. Honestly, I've pulled out my reusable bag stash in the airport to combine several smaller bags and meet the carry-on requirements before. Reusable bags get BIG! You can also pull it out to sit on wet park benches or bleachers. Useful, right? Winning, winning, winning!
If you have additional tips for using reusable bags you'd like to share, comment below. Especially if you have tips for keeping the junk food out (ha!).
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