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Monday, February 18, 2008

Thinking Outside the Bag

runner-up titles for this post:
Bag Lady Rant
Paper or Cloth?

Plastic grocery/shopping bags are bad, bad, evil, contaminating enemies of the environment. I could explain why, but chances are that if you're visiting this page, you're a friend of mine and we probably think pretty closely on this issue already anyway. But if you'd like a little more background, here are a few well-written pieces on the subject. Go ahead, read up...I'll be here when you get done.
See? They're awful.

For some time now, I've used canvas totes at smaller shopping establishments and just went with the flow at larger chains. There are a number of places around my neighborhood to take plastic bags for recycling, so it just seemed a matter of annoyance and inconvenience. Okay, so they gave me the bags; but I gave them back! But the truth is that the problem isn't just where they're going after use; it's also the pollution involved in manufacturing them in the first place.

And I'm also becoming more and more jaded about this whole recycling thing.

I remember about 10 years ago, I worked late one night and saw the custodian emptying the office waste bins. Our company had clearly-marked bins, some for regular trash and some for paper to be recycled. The paper bins had signs with detailed instructions outlining exactly what was (and was not) to be placed in them, and procedures for doing so. I had spent months carefully removing staples and tearing out the plastic windows from envelopes, thinking all the while that the paper in the recycling bins would be, well, recycled. So when this guy dumped both bins into the same wheeled Dumpster, a little piece of my optimism and faith in humanity just shriveled up and died.

Flash forward to the recent articles about e-waste that isn't recycled but is shipped overseas (the carbon footprint, egads!) to pollute in someone else's backyard, and the suspiciously-similar trucks that pick up my trash and recycling (owned by the same contractor), and I am a bit less confident that my efforts are really making a difference.

So now I'm becoming more aggressive about reducing our plastic bag usage. And you know what? People are really pissing me off.

Case in point, tonight at the grocery store. I picked up only a few items...3 bags' worth. The clerk finished ringing my order, and as I dug around in my wallet for my debit card, he turned to bag my purchases. I said, "No thank you, I brought my own bags." He gave me a blank look. I grabbed my bags from the cart and tossed them up on the belt. As he ran the card and totaled my order, I filled the first bag. He turned, stared a little more, and asked, "So, um, you don't want any bags?" I said no and filled the second bag. He then gestured to my last two items and asked, "Do you want these in a bag?"

At this point, I'm dim enough that I thought he just wanted to help and was intending to use, oh, I don't know, one of the cloth bags from the stack between us. Nope. He cheerfully put the items in--you guessed it--a plastic bag, and wished me a good night.

Here's your sign.

I should mention that this is not the first incident exactly like this. It happens more often than not. I state my preference, or out-and-out object to the plastic...the employees stand there uselessly while I bag my own groceries...and finally help by finishing up with plastic. And I should also mention that this is at stores which now sell their own logo'd cloth bags! I guess when they were jumping on the good-PR bandwagon, they all forgot to hold staff meetings about cloth bag etiquette. So just for everyone's edification, I'll set forth a few simple rules.

1. No means no. (In fact, this pretty much applies to everything in life. A good rule to know.) If I've already told you twice that I do not wish to use plastic bags, chances are pretty good that I will not be changing my mind when you ask me a third time.

2. I have already stated my intent to use these bags for ferrying my purchases. You are allowed to touch them. And you are especially encouraged to help me when I have two cranky young children with me. Standing there staring while I do all the work is just going to make about you. ('Cause that'll show you. Snark, snark.)

Oh and just for the record, it's not just the chains. Last summer I had an argument at the farmer's market with a vendor who refused to put his produce into my canvas tote until he had pre-packaged it in a plastic bag. I swear, it's as if people have become so conditioned to that part of the transaction that they don't get closure without it!

1 comment:

  1. hm, I've been thinking about this plastic bag thing. I take the plastic bags they give me and either re-use or take them back for recycling. Ocassionally I get paper because it's much easier to carry 5 paper bags than 20 plastic. But these new reusable bags the stores are selling are made of polypropylene, isn't that bad too? Just curious.