COMMENTARY: Plastic grocery bags, the environment, reality and jerks

My wife says it every time we pull up to the supermarket: “We forgot the bags!” Impossibly, the cloth tote bags that litter the trunk of our car every other day of the year somehow manage to get left behind when we go shopping.

FI-Robert-WalshBags used to be the one thing we never had to worry about. Back in the good old days, every line had a bagger, all the registers were open, and paper bags flowed like pulped orange juice.

Somewhere along the line, however, supermarkets started hawking tote bags to help protect the environment. They convinced us to buy the very things we used to get for free by appealing to our collective sense of guilt.

 

Failed environmental stewards

While I am blissfully immune to most human feelings, my wife is not. She bought them despite our carefully curated stockpile of old grocery bags at home, some as old as the Jamiroquai era.

Then, like Jamiroquai itself, these tote bags were forgotten. Each new trip to the supermarket was a suffering invitation, an opportunity to lament our failure as environmental stewards with each plastic bag we filled.

We soon developed bag anxiety, an ailment that will surely find itself into the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

It’s the feeling one experiences at Costco when first realizing there are no bags. We’re forced to scramble through a bin of strange boxes riddled with fruit flies in the futile hope we’ll find something in a familiar shape.

Instead we’re left to make do with display cases in odd geometric shapes, desperately relying on our old Tetris skills to get them to fit in the car.

 

There’s thin and there’s thinner

In the name of progress, we can’t get paper bags in grocery stores anymore because the environmental impact of their creation is much worse than plastic.

However, the plastic bags they offer nowadays are so thin that calling them “bags” is misleading. They’re more like a white plastic film that lasts just long enough to get halfway from the car to the kitchen before ripping apart.

When I bag my groceries, I double-bag everything. If anything has a sharp edge, I triple-bag it. (By “sharp edge,” I mean anything sharper than a cotton swab.)

I use old paper bags to recycle newspapers or bring things to Goodwill, but those plastic bags are useless by the time I get home. They’re single-serving items that I wouldn’t trust to hold shredded paper.

 

Thank you?

The irony is the writing on the side: “Thank you for shopping with us.”

Thanking us for shopping with this useless pouch is like thanking catheter buyers by including a mesh leg-bag. They’re really forcing us to either buy their totes or play “grocery bag roulette” on the way home.

 

More small charges on the way

While I believe in the importance of recycling, I’d rather not fund the industry’s cost of doing business through my wallet. There should be a more significant discount for people who actually remember to bring their own bags because we’re saving the store money.

Instead, they seem to be taking the lead from the airline industry, where we’ll soon be charged for air mid-flight.

It’s not all the store’s fault. Many states are, justifiably, trying to tax plastic bags into extinction in order to keep them out of our waterways.
However, the number one source of littering is not the casual grocery shopper, but rather … jerks.

How do we tax being a jerk? If we can figure that one out, we’ll generate millions. As for the movement toward paper-thin plastic at the grocery store, I say we bag it altogether.

 

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

 

 

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