And no, it doesn’t involve eating them.
It seems I can make major, life-altering decisions, but I can’t decide if I want paper or plastic.
FUNNY STORY GOES HERE:
A friend’s husband (bright guy but easily the village idiot when it came to anything besides the Chicago Bulls or the practice of law) once made a trip to a grocery store while his wife was in the hospital having a baby or something. When the checker asked if he preferred paper or plastic he looked at her like she was mental and replied: “Cash.”
I bring canvas bags to grocery stores so I don’t get stuck with an armload of plastic bags to recycle (I’m not convinced those recycling people really recycle anyway) or to make clothing or housewares out of.
If you think I’m holy, you can begin applauding now.
But when I buy a trunkload of stuff at one of those superstores I come home with bags I don’t need or want, which I conscientiously store in a basket and then conscientiously tote to a recycling bin at the grocery store, conscientiously trying not to worry that the grocery stores not so conscientiously just throw everything in the dumpster after closing time.
I worry about what’s going to become of all those unwanted plastic bags. Will they be adopted and treasured, like Windy, their every flutter monitored and birthday cakes consumed in their honor? Sadly, not likely.
Take a look at these stats from Reuseit.com:
- 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year, worldwide.
- A single plastic bag can take between 20 and 1000 years to degrade.
- More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
- Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
- Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
- The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store.
Feeling tormented yet?
See also: EPA.GOV
Oh sure, you can make stuff from discarded plastic bags. There’s the purse:
And the belt:
I think we can all agree that these are Uncommon Goods.
Then there’s these:
This is pretty but its usefulness is a bit limited:
By artist Laura Marsden
But making things out of discarded plastic bags isn’t my bag. I prefer knitting. I want to bring home fewer plastic bags from the get go, so I don’t have to find new ways to dispose of them since stuffing them into small holes in the wall to boost insulation seems so time consuming and then you have to repair the holes and the paint never matches.
When I’m feeling sufficiently impulse-controlled not to buy 17 bags of sweat socks and a decade’s supply of pizza bagels I shop at one of those wholesale clubs, where they load my stuff directly into a cart without bagging or boxing. They seem to understand that if I’m buying a mattress-size bag of oranges, I don’t need a bag to put my bag in — it’s already in a bag.
You might say that the warehouse clubs get me.
Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly virtuous and lucky, I’ll ask a supermarket bagger not to bag bigger items. I don’t need a bag to carry a jug of laundry detergent or a gallon of white vinegar or a jumbo bag of frozen blueberries. I have to sense a lucky streak to make this request, though, since it usually throws baggers into a tailspin:
You don’t want big stuff in bags?
No, thanks, I can carry the big stuff without a bag.
How about the soda?
No, that’s fine.
What about the potatoes?
No, they’re already in a bag.
The bag of charcoal? The dog food? This gigantic watermelon? The five pounds of bird seed?
Nope, no bags.
With each perplexed challenge my ambition to be holy and noble withers and doesn’t revive until, no less than a month later, I’ll forget the pain of the experience as women forget the details of labor and my sister and I block out memories of family vacations gone wrong.
So I’ve been thinking.
- At the supermarket, they ask if I want paper or plastic.
- At most other stores they never ask; I just get plastic.
- At the warehouse store I get nothing, but I’m fine with that because most of the stuff I buy there is large or not fragile.
- Whenever I try to explain that I don’t need bags for the large things, the bagger at the supermarket blows a gasket trying to wrap his habit-ridden brain around my outside-the-box (bag?) demand.
Remember when stores used only paper bags? And then they added plastic bags and the baggers had to be trained (perhaps with electric collars) to inquire: “Paper or Plastic?” And their heads didn’t explode?
Why can’t there be one more option at the checkout counter? Why can’t they ask me if I want, for instance, “full packing” or “partial packing”? Why can’t I tell them I want partial packing and have them already know that that means I don’t want bags for the big stuff so I don’t have to explain how it works every time I shop?
In college I developed a fondness for iced coffee. When I moved back home I tried to order it in restaurants and usually had to teach servers how to make it. Do you have coffee? Do you have ice? Do you have glasses? Do you know how to make iced tea? Well, iced coffee is just like that, only with coffee. It’s okay if the ice melts — you can add more ice. I promise I won’t be mad. More than once I received a mug of coffee garnished with floating ice cubes. Eventually servers learned how to make iced coffee (I credit Starbucks) and I no longer had to draw diagrams on the tablecloth and channel Jack Nicholson:
Why can’t checkout baggers be trained to ask customers to follow up “Paper or Plastic” with “Full Packing or Partial Packing”?
I know! Let’s start a campaign. Why not Stumble this post, or mention it on your own blog, or on your Facebook page or Twitter feed? Why not forward it to news organizations? Why not ask the bagger not to bag the big stuff the next time you shop? We can make blog badges, bumper stickers, tee shirts with the slogan: “Ask for Partial Packing!” If we all pull together we can teach them, yes we can!
Otherwise we might all be doomed to wearing hand-crocheted plastic bag sandals.