13 May 2008

plastic bag police!

There are some days when I am especially aware and notice every person passing by or sitting in my subway car that is carrying a plastic bag, or as more often the case, multiple bags. When I am feeling especially impassioned, I count how many bags in comparison to people. And then there are the people at the grocery store putting a bunch of bananas in a plastic produce bag. Or an apple. Or a couple of onions. What?!
I just. Don't. Get. It.

It drives me insane. I am almost always fighting the urge to explode in someone's face (as nicely as possible, of course), chastising them for the plastic bag in their hand that is holding one t-shirt or paperback book, or for the produce that is unnecessarily in a bag in their shopping cart. 'What are you DOING?!' I want to ask. Or maybe, more what I want to do, is blast some sort of wonky siren and embarrass the ne'er-do-well-er on the street, spouting off some facts about how plastic bags (and well, plastic in general) are giving us cancer, choking cute baby animals, leeching chemicals into our soil and water, and just being generally unaesthetic (in your hand, on the land). Plastic bag police! It might make for good poli-social performance art though...

We use plastic bags and the like so much, it becomes a completely unconscious consumption. Almost as if the thought of plastic bags not existing at all would be impossible to swallow. Awhile back, my now former roommate made an interesting observation-- the vendors at our heralded farmer's markets are often overly quick to put your purchases in a plastic bag for you. You've looked down for a quick moment to grab your wallet, and swoosh! all of your produce has been deftly tossed in a bag or two. I usually make my tote visible and/or say 'I don't need a bag' as I hand over the goods to be weighed, and I do see lots and lots of people using their own bag at the market (just another reason why the Greenmarket is my 'happy place'). And all of the Whole Foods in the country are now plastic-bag free (except in the produce department), so the whole choice of 'paper or plastic' is now more like 'your own bag? oh. no? well, we sell an assorted bunch of snazzy ones ranging from $1 to $30. but we will otherwise begrudgingly, but with a smile, pack your goods into a 100% recycled paper bag.'

And I have heard entirely too many excuses from people saying 'Oh, well they put my stuff in a bag before I had a chance to say I didn't need one.' Yeah, that's nice. TAKE IT OUT OF THE BAG and kindly leave the bag there and say 'I brought my own' or 'I don't need a bag'. This surprises and befuddles some cashiers, and sometimes I emphasize my point by saying 'I'm trying to reduce the amount of packaging I use.' I promise you, if you do this enough, everywhere you shop-- grocery stores, clothing stores, book stores, etc., you will not only get more in the habit of bringing and using your own bags, but you will also influence store employees and managers, and maybe even teach someone something new along the way.

So maybe you think I'm up here on my repurposed sustainable lumber soapbox making big noise over something that's 'not a big deal.' But I believe that we must all realize everything we do makes a difference and has consequences. One person makes a difference. One household makes a difference. You, YOU make a difference. So it's 'just saying no' to plastic (and paper) bags today, and it's another step tomorrow.

I hardly have any plastic bags in my house. Or paper ones for that matter. I try not even to use baggies (or I often wash and re-use them when I do). I am 95% a-okay with this, until the time comes when I need to transport my grungy kitchen clogs to an event, or throw wet items into, or help someone take leftovers home, and then I'm scrambling around improvising. But I can live with that so long as I know I'm doing my part. Are you doing yours?

FYI:If you have an excess of plastic bags sitting around your house, most Whole Foods, Central Market, and conventional grocery stores have bins near the doors for plastic bag recycling-- for shopping, produce, and newspaper delivery bags. I know the Whole Foods at Union Square in NYC employs a sort of 'have a bag, leave a bag; need a bag, take a bag' system, so if you do need a plastic bag for some reason, you could just take what you needed.


crikito said...

what do u use to line trash bins? or take out the trash in? just curious.

Kaitlyn said...

yay! i also (try) to always carry a canvas bag folded up in my purse when i leave the house, so that in case i need to buy something that won't fit in my purse, i will have something to carry it in. however, occasionally i do forget. when i do, i save the bag for re-uses such as carrying dirty shoes or wrapping food that i don't want to spill all over.
however, i wish that cashiers weren't so quick to put something as small as a pack of gum in a plastic bag. i get tired of saying, every single time i buy something "i don't need a bag," quick enough to catch them before they slip it in.
it would be nice if cashiers only bagged items when the customer asked, especially if it is just one tiny thing.

Aja Tahari Marsh said...

As far as the trash bins etc go, I guess it just depends. Usually, yeah I would get trash bags for that, but lately I've been using plastic or paper shopping bags that my roommates stash under the sink from their shopping or take-out. There's not really that many of them and they are small but I try to take them out only when they are pretty full. The cool thing is that in my building, where you take the trash, it's already lined with a bag so I could actually take loose trash down there, though I don't know if that's what the building managers would prefer or not.

Otherwise for other things I try to reuse the bags multiple bags, and for shopping use tote bags, put it in my purse or gym bag, etc. And all of those bags are washable so that's great!

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