Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: BYOB (bag, that is)

Back in the States, we used to recycle our plastic bags at our local grocery store. Every time we thought of it, we stuck a bunch of them in the stroller basket and would put them in the designated receptacle before shopping. And this was not just at Whole Foods—every grocery store took them. So I’ve been a bit surprised to discover that I can’t recycle plastic bags here.

On the other hand, it has made me stop and think about the number of bags we collect in the course of regular errands. When I was walking a dog several times a day, we actually used them and they could go into the Green Bin. But she has been gone for about a year now. Since we’re not in the habit of tossing them, they started taking over the space under our kitchen sink. Sure, we used a couple a week for small trash cans, but that was it. Finally, I took a bunch into Scooter’s class—where they’re used for wet clothes and the like.

But I also was reminded of the saying, “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” Although all three are important in reducing our impact on the environment, those three actions are given in order of descending efficiency. So while recycling is good—recycle everything you can where you are—it is best to reuse what items you can. And even better is consuming less.

And so to my action for the month: bringing reusable bags when I shop. Now this is very straightforward at some place like Whole Foods. There, they encourage the practice, selling good quality reusable bags at a low price and crediting your purchase 10 cents per bag you bring back. Two of the three bags I regularly bring with me come from them, though the one is an insulated bag we bought in the States that makes the clerks up here green with envy. One bag holds just about the same amount as one of their paper bags and the other two hold significantly more, so we can usually fit most of our weekly shopping into just those three bags.

I was feeling pretty good about that until I took stock of just how many bags I end up with from other places. Occasional trips to Shoppers, the campus bookstore, even our organic butcher—suddenly we’ve collected a fistful of bags. And so an increased effort to bring bags with me. The organic butcher, unsurprisingly, approves of the insulated tote; we ended up in a conversation about An Inconvenient Truth last time. On our trip this past weekend to Loblaws, for those items Whole Foods just doesn’t carry (goldfish crackers and pullups being the big items), I brought in my usual bags. The cashier looked at us a little funny, but didn’t say anything. Outside of the big box items, everything else fit into our bags.

Now I haven’t been perfect. Going to Shoppers this week, I intended to pick up a prescription for Trillian and only one or two other items. Of course, I ended up with more than an armful—Gatorade on sale and Trillian’s been sick—and had to accept the plastic bag proffered in order to get things home. And I’m sure I’ll cause some confusion when I bring my own bag in next time. I also haven’t figured out what to do about our nearby take-out place that always has our order ready to go in a plastic bag when I arrive, especially since that is how they bring it out of the kitchen.

On the plus side, my desire to avoid collecting plastic bags and experiences like this are encouraging me to be a more mindful shopper. I try to consider before I leave the apartment whether I should grab one (or more) of the bags hanging on the coat closet handle. And then, if I do end up shopping when I’m out, I am much less likely to grab extra items if it would mean the difference between carrying the item out in my hands or taking a plastic bag. So by reducing the number of bags I use, I seem to be reducing other consumption as well. It’s almost like two steps in one!


Mad Hatter said...

We take bins to the grocery store. Whenever I forget, I am sickened by the # of bags they use. Take milk for example. The milk is in 1 litre bags; 3 1 litre bags are bagged as a unit AND THEN the grocery store clerk tries to bag the bags up for you. It makes my skin crawl.

kgirl said...

I've ranted about this one before. Highland Farms makes THE best reusable shopping bags. They're huge and sturdy.
I can't stand double-baggers.
I also have a hate-on for people who do things like put their bunch of bananas or brocolli in a little plastic produce bag.
I'll stop now.

metro mama said...

Price Chopper sells good quality, inexpensive reusable bags. Costco has a good one too.

alejna said...


Thanks for this post. How funny. I've been thinking about just this topic a lot lately, had been meaning to write about it for a while. I finally wrote a post about it a few days ago. I live in a fairly rural area where nobody brings bags to the big chain supermarket. I worked up the courage to stand out and stand up by bringing my string bags a few years ago, and have noticed that this small change has had bigger ramifications in my choices.

Plus, I'm hoping to be a bellwether. I mean, string bags are way cool. You'd think everyone would want to use them once they see them.

I'll really have to start following your Global Warming Wednesdays series. I like what you have to say, and how you say it.

Mouse said...

alejna--Thanks. It's funny, because I too felt that I needed to work up the courage to bring bags with me. And really, it's not that big of a thing. But when we went to a mall on Saturday (I won't get started on the ugly consumerism), every time I told a cashier I didn't need a bag since I brought my own, they'd look at me quizzically and say, "Are you sure?" Same thing at Loblaws. It won't stop me from continuing, but really is it that weird?

Also, I love those string bags. When I was growing up, my parents had a couple from the year we spent in Europe on my dad's fellowship. I remember my mother explaining to me how people would bring their own bags--and being a bit surprised at the concept then.