Plastic Bags

I went to the store yesterday for grocery shopping and brought my reusable bags along. While checking out, the woman who was doing the bagging was putting my stuff in a plastic bag FIRST and then into my reusable bags. This was a first, so for a second there I was amused and then I asked her to put my stuff directly in the reusable bags. But then she started arguing, “oh you can’t have the fruit with the cleaning products and the frozen stuff together in one bag” “oh, yes, I can” I said, but then she continued arguing. I gave up, OK fine I thought, why would I bother arguing with a middle aged woman bagging groceries in a Stop and Shop…

Now my problem – among others – is that Stop and Shop actually promotes the sale and use of reusable canvas bags, as well as the recycling of plastic bags, but somehow failed to notify their employees about it. They even give you a credit of 5c everytime you use a reusable bag, but sometimes you have to tell the cashier about it, as they tend to forget. And the other mildly annoying thing they do is that they half-fill the bags, and then use plastic bags for the rest. Then I have to ask them to put more stuff in them, or do it myself. Of course the culture at Trader Joes and Whole Foods is totally different: they overstuff the bags and I like it.

My question is what good is it if you have all the good intentions (as Stop and Shop aparently does) but then fail in the implementation. I don’t want to tell their employees what they should be doing. Truth to be told usually I am in the reusable bag minority in their stores, but is it so difficult to implement the environmentally friendly conciousness they’re trying to promote? And no, I don’t think it is a good idea to take all the plastic bags they have used and put them into the plastic bags recycling bin. This is because recycling plastic bags is very expensive and inefficient. Yes, it is better than throwing them out in the trash, but the best solution is to ban them altogether.

After yesterday’s incident I have been doing some more research about plastic bags to go after the numbers. We all know that plastic bags are bad for the environment: they can persist in the landfills for centuries as they do not biodegrade, seas and fresh water bodies are littered with them. Now the hard numbers: the EPA estimates that every year Americans throw 380 billion plastic bags away, which is  the equivalent to throwing away  millions of barrels of oil, since plastic bags are made of petrochemicals.

Plastic bags are not recycling friendly: one, you cannot recycle them with other plastic products and two, you can only downcycle them, meaning you can only put them into products that cannot be recycled. Plastic bags are never recycled to new recycled bags, for the sole reason that a new plastic bag is cheaper.

Bangladesh has banned the use of plastic bags and Ireland has imposed a 22-cent tax on plastic bags, which has reduced their use by more than 90% since 2002. Here in the US, the only major city banning the use of plastic bags is San Fransisco (since 2007). Other cities are looking into imposing fees on plastic bags: New York City a 5-cent fee and Seattle a 20-cent fee on paper and plastic shopping bags in retail stores. Here in Massachusetts, Plymouth has rejected a proposed ban on plastic bags, and a fee is considered state wide. By the way, did you know that the Commonwealth has designated Wednesday as a reusable bag day (back in 2007)? Yep, that’s what I thought, I didn’t know either. Another example of a well-thought and poorly-executed initiative: the idea was that retailers would encourage customers to consider bringing in their own bags or purchasing reusable bags. I’m sure Foodmaster and Market Basket were all over that…

So we all agree that plastic bags are bad for the environment. What do we do about it? I don’t think a fee will fly now that we have to deal with a newly proposed 19-cent gasoline tax, and we will still have many plastic bags around. Ireland is a good example of such a measure’s success, but I think that banning plastic shopping bags in retail stores altogether is the way to go. The only opposition we will face will be that of the association of plastic bag manufacturers which calls itself  -are you ready?- the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling. Now all we gotta do is come up with a smart, beat-around-the-bush name like that for the ban-the-plastic-bag coalition, something like Coalition to Support Reusable Bag Use…

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