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Plastic bag in tree

Dear grocery store checker,

I bought several of these reusable bags at your store. I have two sets of them, in two different colours. One for each car, so I can be environmentally responsible no matter which vehicle I’m driving. Since it is, indeed, too much to ask for me to remember to transfer my reusable bags from one car to the next. I’m covering all my environmental bases here. For I do not wish to contribute plastic bag refuse to the ecosystem at this alarming rate nor do I wish to play any part in using up all the resources it takes to manufacture them so that they can be used an average of 20.36 minutes—the time it takes me to put my groceries in the car, drive home, and put them away in my cupboards—just so they can be put into the ecosystem at said alarming rate.

When I come to your line, I like that you’re enthusiastic about my reusable bags. You take them cheerfully, setting one up for my fruits and veggies and you set aside the rest for all the rest. You are apologetic when you forget my $.05 cent refund per each and grateful when I tell you that it’s fine, I’m just glad I’ve saved a plastic tree or two. Then you laugh a little, and I feel good about having brought a little cheer to your day. It’s like we have a relationship, you and I, for that one little minute, even though I’ve been in your line a thousand times and you still need to ask for my ID. But that’s another discussion.

I’m writing you today to encourage you to think a little bit about why your customers are using reusable bags. Remember, I bought the reusable bags so I wouldn’t use plastic anymore. Right? When you put only three to four items in each of my reusable bags (like you do with the plastic kind) and then have to resort to additional paper or plastic bags for what’s left over, you’re missing the point entirely. The reusable bags I purchased are sturdy—because they are—what was that? Oh yes—reusable. You can put all kinds of canned goods in one bag, you know, lots of heavy stuff, and while I may need to use two hands to carry the bag inside my home, that beats the alternative.

Also, if something already comes in a handy container that’s easily carried—like a six-pack of beer, milk, or a turkey—I don’t need a bag to help me carry it. It already comes with a handle.

And while I appreciate that you have many fussy patrons who would like their meat bagged and double-bagged, even bagged separately from their other groceries, I’m just not that finicky. I don’t get all bent if my perma-sealed chicken touches my refried beans. I’ll be lucky if I can get that chicken out of its plastic sheath when I get home without losing an eye. Besides, if I choose a piece of meat that happens to be a little leaky, I do grab one of those recyclable vegetable bags you’ve got up there so it’s not bleeding all over the entire place. If it’s not leaky, then I figure the package it’s in is good enough. Same thing with toiletries, cleaning products, and fruits and vegetables. If it doesn’t come in its own skin, I’ve already protected it with one of those thin little see-through bags, which I will bring back to the store to reuse on my next trip…unless, of course, they contained something leaky.

In fact, by not understanding all these nuances behind the reason why I take care to bring you my reusable bags, you’ve created a whole new grocery-cart-emptying behaviour. When I take my groceries out of my cart, I’m careful to make eye contact with you and mention that my meat does not need to be placed in a separate plastic bag and hope that you’ll convey that message to the bagger. When I see that he has not understood, then I’ve got to communicate it again, which makes me feel a little bit high maintenance and a lot whiney. When the six-pack of beer or the milk goes by, I’ve got to grab it before it gets into the bagger’s hands, so now I’m feeling a little territorial and predatory. When the tiny bottle of aspirin I bought is about to be “wrapped,” I’ll feel obliged to say, “No thank you. I don’t need an additional bag. The package it comes in is just fine.” Unless of course I’ve had to intercept the bagger an annoyingly high number of times beforehand, in which case, I might just let that aspirin get wrapped in its own, special, protective plastic shell so it doesn’t taint the rest of its little grocery friends. Which just makes me cranky.

For really, when we go to the grocery store we buy just as much packaging as we do food. And while I realize that we have to have ways to contain and convey the food we consume, we all really should be thinking about the tremendous amount of resources it takes to get the food we eat to the table.

Thanks for listening,

Cath Edvalson—a patron who’s just trying to save a few plastic trees.

To read more of Cath’s writing, visit her blogs Cath, etc.

image: plastic bag via Shutterstock

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