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Eco-friendly Alternatives to Plastic Bags

While plastic bags are convenient for consumers, the sad truth is they're extremely harmful to the environment and wildlife. Here are some better alternatives.

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wong yu liang/Shutterstock

Paper Grocery Bags

Plastic bags made from non-renewable crude oil aren’t biodegradable, and it takes millions of barrels of oil to produce them every year. Once made it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. It can take as long as 400 years for one plastic bag to break down. That creates pollution problems and dangerous situations for any wildlife swallowing plastic particles. So the next time you’re at the grocery store and the cashier asks if you want paper or plastic, choose paper.

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Mason Jars

Alternatives to plastic bags for storage come in all shapes and sizes, including the ever-popular Mason jar. Storing food in glass jars has been common for many years (it’s something your grandparents probably did), and it has several advantages over plastic bags. Jars can be recycled, or washed and reused indefinitely — a true money saver. Food stored in jars tastes fresher because the glass doesn’t absorb odors from other foods in the fridge. They’re also food safe and don’t leak. And glass doesn’t contain toxins.

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DFH17APR020-_shutterstock_278807762-1hidesy/shutterstock

Reusable Cloth Shopping Bags

Many grocery stores offer the option of paper, plastic or the purchase of their reusable shopping bags. The bags are usually displayed throughout the store, as well as at the customer service counter and the cash register. They come in a variety of colors, perhaps with the company logo, and some are festive for the holidays. They’re usually from a durable inexpensive material or fabric. Some grocery chains ask shoppers to pay for plastic bags. By purchasing an eco-friendly recyclable shopping bag, you’re helping the planet and saving money, too  — as long as you remember to bring them.

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Canvas Shopping Bags

Canvas shopping bags are similar to grocery store bags. Materials range from synthetic fabrics and recycled materials to cotton and canvas. With the focus on environmental health, some designers are adding reusable canvas totes made from recycled or sustainable materials to their fashion collection. After shopping for groceries, make a personal statement about your support of a healthier environment by using a recycled shopping bag versus plastic bags.

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Mesh Shopping Bags

Shop in style at the grocery store or your local farmer’s market with a mesh sling shoulder bag. These flexible, roomy bags are lightweight and see-through. Handles are part of entire bag, which means you don’t have to worry about snapped straps. Bring several with you when shopping for your groceries. When you get home, you can see what’s in each bag. Like other fabric-based shopping bags, they can be recycled once their useful life is over.

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DIY Denim Shopping Bags

A fun do-it-yourself project that saves money and promotes recycling is a ‘make your own denim shopping bag.’ This is as simple as one-two-three: Clip a pair of pants to the desired bag length, sew a double hem along the seam, attach hooks and handles and voila, you’re ready to go shopping. The material is sturdy so it will hold up under weight. It’s easy to carry with the shoulder strap. Best of all, it’s recycled material. It’s also versatile and can be used when you’re out-and-about as a creative fashion piece.

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Metal Containers

Stainless steel containers with a tightly fitting lid featuring a silicone seal serve as a secure and easy way to transport and store food. Available in various sizes, containers are lightweight, durable and practical. They’re also great for storing food in the freezer. It’s versatility at its best since you can use the same container to reheat the stored food. Another benefit of stainless steel: You can write on it with a non-permanent marker to note its contents.

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Mesh produce bag via amazon.com

Mesh Produce Bag

One of your easiest and most eco-friendly options for toy storage is already in your refrigerator. Empty your mesh produce bags and toss in your child’s bath or beach toys. Attach a plastic hook and hang the bag on the shower wall within easy reach. If you need more room than what you can hold in a five-pound bag, just buy more produce. It’s an eco-friendly alternative to traditional toy storage.

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Wax Paper

Before plastic bags became the ‘new thing’ for wrapping sandwiches and other items, wax paper was the way to go. Besides being durable, flexible and recyclable, wax paper keeps items fresh. Whether you’re making your kid’s lunch for school or yours for work, use wax paper to wrap it and a paper bag to hold all the goodies.

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Cardboard Boxes

Ask your store if it has a stash of free cardboard boxes and use one or two to carry your groceries. Some chains have them readily available at checkout so groceries can be packed as they’re checked. They come in all shapes and sizes. Along with being strong and durable, cardboard boxes are recyclable. Whenever you buy something shipped in a cardboard box, reuse it at the grocery store if your local market doesn’t provide free ones for its customers.

Plus, here are 14 free things online that everyone should take advantage of.