People who want to help save the planet need simple ways to be environmentally active.

What they need is "The Earth Life Bag," according to an Orem woman.Barbara Thibault is trying to persuade local grocery stores to carry the bags, which are made of lightweight, four-strand mesh polyethylene. They're reusable, washable, small enough to fit in a pocket and they biodegrade quicker than the solid plastic bags currently offered in grocery stores.

Unlike paper bags, you don't have to chop down trees to make them; unlike solid plastic bags, the mesh bags pose no suffocation hazard. And, if reused, the bags will help grocers save money.

"Recycling (garbage) is necessary, it's very important that we do that,"

Thibault said. "But what is even better is to reduce the amount of garbage that needs to be recycled."

The bags are also tough: Three mesh bags are capable of holding as many groceries as four paper bags - more than a person should try carrying, Thibault said.

"In order to break this (a bag) you'd really have to give it everything you've got or cut it with scissors," she said.

Thibault is proposing that grocers buy the bags, which are imported from China, and offer them free to shoppers along with solid plastic and paper bags. The bags cost slightly more than paper or plastic bags. But, if just 10 percent of shoppers choose the mesh bags, and 10 percent of those people reuse the bags regularly, stores will break even on their investment in mesh bags in about 21 weeks, Thibault said.

"We go to larger grocery chains and smaller Associated Foods stores and show them they can do something for the environment and make a profit also," Thibault said.

An added attraction of the bags: they are available in a number of color combinations, which can be coordinated with a store's color scheme.

So far, at least one local store - Day's Thriftway in Provo - is willing to join the green movement and will begin carrying the bags in January.

A little over a week ago, Day's tried offering the bags on a trial basis for one day. Ninety-nine percent of shoppers at the store went mesh rather than paper or plastic; the store handed out 1,000 Earth Life bags - fittingly colored blue and white in honor of the Brigham Young University Cougars.

"When (shoppers were) told they were free, they all wanted them," said Jill Fazzi, night manager at Day's. "About five to seven people are bringing them back a day."

Fazzi expects the number of people bringing back the bags will climb as people realize they really can reuse them.

Other stores have expressed interest in the bags as well. On Dec. 3 the Smith's Food and Drug store in Tooele will conduct a one-day trial with the bags, Thibault said. The bags used at Smith's will appropriately be colored red and white.

Thibault is pitching the bags for grocery store use, but they can be used for many things - from holding sports equipment to dirty laundry to school books. She and her partner, Joe Harris of Pullman, Wash., are hoping to eventually distribute the Earth Life Bag nationwide.

Variations of the bag have long been used in Europe and Asia. The Earth Life Bag is actually an old idea whose time has come in America, Thibault said.