Why Do Retailers Use so Many Plastic Bags?! One User Points Out Waste


Oct. 24 2023, Published 2:31 p.m. ET

kitchen counter with individually bagged items
Source: r/Anticonsumption/Reddit

How many plastic bags are required per item from the store?

When you're trying to live a zero-waste lifestyle, you may already be shopping with your own reusable bags. However, stores are slow to adopt policies that promote sustainability. Plastic bags still abound at many retailers, and unfortunately, there are only a handful of states with bans on single-use plastic bags, per Yahoo Finance.

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A Reddit thread complaining about using plastic bags at Walmart showed a big part of the problem. At r/extremelyinfuriating, a user shared a photo of a typical grocery-store order in which nearly every item they purchased was packed in its own plastic bag. Why do stores insist on individually bagging items?

white cat among full grocery bags on floor
Source: Daniel Romero/Unsplash

Even with multiple items per bag, these plastic bags are creating immense waste on the planet.

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Social media user notices some stores use one plastic bag per item.

In 2022, a Reddit user posted a frustrated caption in the Reddit threat r/Anticonsumption with a photo of numerous Walmart bags littering the kitchen counter. The accompanying text read, "Walmart pick-up basically used one bag per item, one of the individually items was a single tape, such a waste." People were quick to respond on the social media platform.

Plenty of people have had similar experiences, as evidenced from the comment section:

  • "I hate when I ask for a few bags as possible, and they think I mean, “put a bunch of stuff together in the same bag and then double bag all the bags.”
  • "My local walmart does this too!! It must be company wide policy. But why??"
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Some commenters suggested ways to repurpose the bags. One said: "I've noticed this with Walmart pickup/delivery as well. I have cats so I always need extra bags for litter, but man it is mind boggling that they put every single item into its own bag." Another noted, "That's actually good, re use them all and don't buy trash bags."

Person carrying plastic bag with fruit.
Source: iStock
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While there are other uses for these plastic bags, plastic, in general, is terrible for the environment. According to CNN, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags annually. The production of plastic causes a lot of fossil fuel emissions, and plastic is also a major source of litter that harms wildlife and pollutes waterways.

Unfortunately, many plastic bags aren't recyclable, and consumers aren't recycling them properly. The EPA reported that as of 2018, only about ten percent of plastic bags were recycled.

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Some states and some retailers have banned or discouraged single-use plastic bags. Per Insider Monkey, states with some kind of plastic ban are:

  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Vermont
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Hawaii
  • New Jersey
  • California
Store sign about plastic bag ban
Source: Getty Images

A grocer in Encinitas, California advertises its plastic bag ban in 2015.

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Plastic bag policies vary, however, and sometimes there's no complete ban, but retailers charge a fee for plastic bags to encourage people to choose reusable bags. As CNN explains, 20 states have "preemption laws" that mean cities and municipalities can't make their own laws governing plastic bag use.

Here are some ways you can reuse your plastic bags.

Although reducing or phasing out plastic bags entirely is preferable, there are ways to reuse plastic bags in situations like this one. You can make these household tasks easier with plastic bags:

  • reuse at the grocery store
  • scoop used kitty litter
  • bag up dog waste
  • line paint trays
  • wrap breakables for moving or shipping
  • cover plants to protect them from frost

There are a ton of crafty ways to upcycle plastic shopping bags. For example, The Spruce offers plastic repurposing ideas like plastic totes, ghosts for Halloween decor, DIY gift bows and envelopes, coasters, and many more.

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