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Make your Deen Green: Paper vs. Plastic Bags – Use Your Islam to Help the Environment


Make your Deen Green: Part I

Make your deen green is a series which will include small ways that our readers can make a difference in their daily lives to make it more earth-friendly as well as global environmental issues that affect the Muslim world. Surely changing a light bulb will not change the world, but what we need is a change in attitude to our eco-lives.  If we do these acts as forms of ibadah, of obeying Allah insha’Allah we can live up to the status that He has bestowed upon us. ‘Aisha (radiAllahu anha) narrated, that the Prophet was asked: “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He said, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.” He added, “Don’t take upon yourselves, except the deeds which are within your ability.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:472]

How many of us have seen scenes like these. Piles of garbage, most of it non bio-degradable plastic. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in the United States alone, more than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks and wraps are used each year. Worldwide, the number of plastic bags used is anywhere from 500 billion to 1 trillion every year. Meanwhile, Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute, as only 0.6 percent to 1 percent of them are ever recycled. All across the world, they choke up gutters, suffocate dolphins, accumulate in your drawers. It takes 1000 years to biodegrade one. The little pieces of plastic act as a sponge for chemicals. They soak up a million fold greater concentration of such deadly compounds as PCBs and DDE (a breakdown product of the notorious insecticide DDT), than the surrounding seawater ( Marine life then eats these pieces and die. It is estimated that over a 100,000 different birds, seals and whales die every year. After the animal dies its carcass decomposes and the plastic is free to roam the ocean and kill again.

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This is such an easy way to go green. Imagine how many resources we can save. As Muslims, it is incumbent on us to protect the planet that Allah has given as an Amanah (trust). As Muslim moms, we are the ones who usually buy the groceries for our homes – how hard is it really to make it a priority NOT to use single use bags, paper or plastic?

1. Use reusable bags -These days every store sells multiple-use bags for usually a dollar and many times you get free handouts. They last so long, I have some that are a few years old and they still look the same. Just be sure to practice hygiene and rinse them out from time to time, wipe them with a disinfectant wipe. Otherwise use canvas bags, they are the best and can be washed in the washing machine. No one will look at you like you are a weirdo any more than they already do, in fact in some places it is actually chic to carry reusable bags.  If you are not in the U.S., renew the customs of your country’s heritage – use shopping baskets woven from sisal like these Kenyan ones or remember these ones – my Amma (grandmother)  had one, I am sure yours did too.

2.When packing school/office lunches use a reusable bag instead of a plastic baggie-more than 20 million sandwich bags from school lunches go into landfills in the US.  I found these amazing sandwich bags from 3 Green Moms, and use them for my kid’s lunches everyday. They are washable too.  You can find more here, and here you can find instructions on how to make your own.  If you are going to use Ziplocs, wash them out and reuse them, tell the kids to bring them back in their lunchboxes. For more ideas on how to pack a more earth friendly lunch click here.

3. Ask the clerk NOT to bag things that already come in bags ie. the bag of oranges, onions.  Milk and juice jugs are easier to carry without a bag – ever had one burst because the bag broke?

4. Keep the bags in your car and return them to the car when you have emptied out the grocery! I have a big insulated bag, that I keep in the car along with several reusable bags. Most stores even give you a nickel back for every bag you reuse.  It takes just a bit of retraining our habits.

5. Sometimes I forget to take the bags (I am so not perfect :P ), and that is when I ask the clerk to give me paper bags as a last resort. They are not that great (it takes one gallon of water to produce ONE paper bag) but at least it can go in your compost bin and you are much more likely to reuse them. With paper bags you can make bookcovers, use it as craft paper or wrap a gift. Or if you absolutely must use a plastic bag – please RECYCLE them, do not throw them in the garbage.

Watch this documentary – you will never look at a plastic bag in the same way again:


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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Hena Zuberi is the Editor in Chief of She leads the DC office of the human rights organization, Justice For All, focusing on stopping the genocide of the Rohingya under Burma Task Force, advocacy for the Uighur people with the Save Uighur Campaign and Free Kashmir Action. She was a Staff Reporter at the Muslim Link newspaper which serves the DC Metro. Hena has worked as a television news reporter and producer for CNBC Asia and World Television News. Active in her SoCal community, Hena served as the Youth Director for the Unity Center. Using her experience with Youth, she conducts Growing Up With God workshops. Follow her on Twitter @henazuberi.



  1. Haleh

    March 28, 2011 at 2:28 AM

    Excellent reminder for all of us. I love that you stated being environmentally aware to a form of worship. It’s so true – just like everything else we do.

    My son did his science project last year on plastic bags and the harm they have on the environment. He used two very, catchy slogans he found: Single Use in Earth Abuse and Do Something drastic-cut the plastic. Until now, anytime I am about to trow a plastic bag away those slogans ring in my ears and I make some use for them.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that each person can make a huge difference!

    Jazakillah khair,

    • HenaZuberi

      March 29, 2011 at 4:05 PM

      Love the slogans Haleh- whatever works. My kids remind me that the plastic bag will never die-
      the best is the look on our desi butcher’s face when I ask him NOT to give us bags, everyone else wants the extra bags. There is this amazing women who runs a blog on how she lives a plastic free life: Honestly I can’t believe how she does it but she has inspired me to cut down on my plastic consumption. Check her out.

  2. Hassen

    March 28, 2011 at 2:32 AM

    Nice article, masha’Allah.

    This makes me reflect on how beautiful Islam is. Like you pointed out, Muslims do these seemingly minuscule tasks (like choosing paper over plastic) not because they think this will change the world but simply because this is an act of worship. What’s interesting is that if everyone had that sort of attitude and sought reward from Allah in their actions then it actually would make a big difference in the world. So we can say that it’s probably a combination of awareness and taqwa that would lead humanity to fixing these problems.

  3. mofw

    March 28, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    This sort of environmentalism may make people feel good but it only has a marginal effect on the environment.

    True environmental devastation results from causes that are much more difficult to understand and combat. The destruction of the global ecosystem is due to very entrenched and very powerful corporate interests.

    However, your average apolitical professional Muslim wouldn’t want to struggle with such disturbing issues and how to muster the consider effort required to organize against such forces with only incremental if any successes.

    So, I suppose, a better solution is this feel good, trendy “green” consumer activism.

    • Hena Zuberi

      March 28, 2011 at 11:54 AM

      You have to start small and work yourself up- InshaAllah we need to get there too pls read

      I know the we are manipulated by the corporate world and this post is a bit basic but pls don’t be so pessimistic towards your Muslim brothers and sisters-
      I believe my Rab looks at every effort of mine, be it big or little and I would not stop people from doing little because they are not doing something big.

      We need to educate ourselves and others-if you would like to write a piece on the larger global issues pls submit it to or if you have grander scale movement you would like to share please for the sake of Allah and this beautiful planet do so.

      Where do you live? could you share with us the effort you are a part of- maybe you could inspire some armchair activists to something greater.

      • mofw

        March 28, 2011 at 12:19 PM

        Your efforts to divert my cynicism into productive behavior are making me uncomfortable.

        Regardless, I will leave you with this article:

        Also, in parts of Europe residents are forced to pay by the kilogram for unrecycled waste. This is a strong incentive for them to recycle and to limit waste.

        It seems like it would be more effective to lobby for a similar laws here in the US. But you know, buying pretty bags is nice, too.

        • Hena Zuberi

          March 28, 2011 at 1:50 PM

          :) Thank you! My city’s bag ban is going in effect in July. iA

          Our biggest opponents were people who think this just another way for the government to tax us and for businesses to make money- so we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
          For example this guy:

          The plastic bag companies and stores will rejoice in this law. Now instead of using flimsy free bags for trash disposal and doggy clean up customers will have to buy much thicker, expensivie, and bulkier bags. Good for the bag manufacturers? YES Good for stores? Yes Good for the enviroment NO This is not for the enviroment just follow the money! Go to Costco, no bags just big bulky cardboard boxes. Good for Costco because the customers haul the packing trash away. Good for the envroment?

          I think that people should be made to pay for the bags at the counter- people are the problem and when it isn’t free then they will make an effort to reuse.

          I agree with you about charging for unrecyclable garbage, iA one of my posts in this series is about going thru the garbage more carefully and trying to reduce the amount of trash that we put outside and bring inside our homes. But we have to start somewhere-

          Btw I suggested using baskets- those last a lifetime

          • mofw

            March 28, 2011 at 8:27 PM

            I’m sure grocery baskets will be a hit with the men.

        • Amad

          March 28, 2011 at 3:20 PM

          mofw is back.. attitude and all.
          must be YQ’s post on the new moderation direction ;)

          • mofw

            March 28, 2011 at 8:24 PM

            You know I’ll be testing those boundaries. Ironically, that post was closed for comments. I’m waiting for the right time to strike.

            Time is scarce, though, nowadays.

        • Hassen

          March 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM

          MOFW- of course effectively countering destruction of the environment isn’t about changing the types of bags you shop with, but I think you’re choosing to miss the point of this article to dish out sarcastic remarks about how some people ‘just don’t get it’.

          Point of this article was to encourage Muslims to adopt a different mindset regarding the environment. A group of people with a similar mindset (of environmentalism, or whatever) is the base from which movements develop. You can’t develop a deep change in people’s mindset overnight.

          So I saw benefit in this article in this respect, encouraging people to become more environmentally-conscious by taking baby steps like choosing paper over plastic. Bigger steps are in the future, insha’Allah.

          • mofw

            March 29, 2011 at 8:51 AM

            It would be wise for you to avoid assumptions about my intentions. That is a losing game in any argument.

            As for the rest of your comment I have only this to say:

            There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root. -Henry David Thoreau.

  4. Leila

    March 28, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    Great article – it is so important to reduce our plastic consumption!

  5. Amatullah

    March 28, 2011 at 6:01 PM

    Jazaki Allahu khayran for this article Hena! I’m living in Canada now and they are really big on recycling, using re-usable bags, taking the bus vs driving. It’s refreshing!

  6. Envy the Envi's

    March 28, 2011 at 10:02 PM

    There are couple of videos on the following blog lies along the similar theme…

    and this quote is simply best (at least to me)

    “I do not think we are killing our environment because that is our goal, but I do think we are killing it because it is our lifestyle”

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