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Double Standards: Plastic Bags

"Do you need a bag?"


There is a tone of warning in the question.  In fact, if you listen closely, you will hear that the stress is on "need" and not "bag".  That is how the cashier signals that the question is intended as a warning, and not an offer.  The look on the cashier's face is at times anxious, as though he or she is keen for you to win at a quiz game.  At other times, the eyes are narrowed in defiance, daring you to give the wrong answer.


I glance at the contents of my shopping basket, aligned on the conveyor belt.  Avocadoes in a plastic box, apples in a plastic bag, cheese in a plastic wrapper, shampoo in a plastic bottle, yoghurt in a plastic tub, and the Saturday Guardian neatly sealed in cellophane to stop all the extra bits from falling out.


In the nanosecond which follows, I search the till person's face.  No, she is not teasing me or being ironic.  I stifle the impulse to shout Look at all this unnecessary plastic packaging! How dare you guilt-trip me about one plastic bag?! Instead, I force my lips into a tight smile over my snarl and give  my answer.


Now, as most of you will know, your answer to this seemingly innocuous question determines the cashier's reaction, as follows:


Script 1: "No, thanks.  I've got my own bag."

The cashier rewards you with an approving smile.  A smile that says you're an upstanding pillar of the community.  You're one of us.  The kind of person who buys only charity Christmas cards, eats alfalfa, uses organic loo roll, and feels deeply guilty about the Yeti size carbon footprint of your people carrier vehicle.


Script 2: "Yes, please."

The cashier pulls out a plastic bag from under the till, avoiding eye contact.  You're a public enemy.  You're politically incorrect.  You're probably a smoker.  You're destroying the Earth.  And climate change is all your fault, too.


I suddenly feel like Hester Prynne.  The plastic bag I carry out, branded with the supermarket logo, is my scarlet letter.  Thus, I proceed home, and vow to make amends with a pilgrimage to the recycling bin.  I unpack my shopping, and study the packaging.  I need my reading glasses to decipher the recycling instructions.  Recycled.  Recycled.  Widely Recycled.  Check with Local Recycling.   I stare at the cheese wrapper.  Not Currently Recycled.  I resolve not to buy cheese again.  I examine the contents of my fridge, and discover several other items with the same label, and other items with no guidelines at all.  I consider the impact of my new resolution on my future diet.  Downhearted, I slice an avocado and drop the knife in horror.  The handle is plastic.  How will I dispose of it when the time comes? In need of distraction from the escalating panic, I switch on the television.  It's made with plastic, so are the remote controls.  I will listen to some music, instead.  Ah! The CD box is plastic.  The CD itself is made of plastic.  The room spins before me.  My plants are in plastic pots.  My laptop is plastic.  The alarm clock, the telephone, shower curtain, toothbrush, toilet seat, the window frames, and even the lenses of my glasses... Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! The Furies are upon me, brandishing their whips.  Crushed by guilt, I collapse on the synthetic fibre carpet.


*   *   *


I am much better, these days.  There is the occasional relapse but I have mostly recovered.  I have resumed my weekly shop at the supermarket.  I choose my foods carefully before adding them to my basket.  Once I am ready, I walk over to the till and place them neatly on the conveyor belt.  I look at the cashier straight in the eye, with the confidence of a clear conscience.  He or she looks up at me and asks, "Do you need a bag?" (stressing "need").


I smile broadly and, taking care to stress the last word, reply, "No – actually – I need two."



 © Scribe Doll 

10 Comment count
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Mixed bag

I completely agree that there's a lot of pressure around the whole bag issue, and some of the people in my favorite stores can be awfully judgy if I happen to forget my bag(s). It also seems futile to minimize *just* bags when there is so much other plastic packaging.

But plastic bags are at the top of the list in terms of items that often fall out of the trash process and end up in our ecosystem, especially our water supply. (Water bottles and caps are the other big items.) The documentary "Bag It" talks about this in a really no-nonsense way, which I appreciated. 

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Thank you so much for your

Thank you so much for your comments.  Don't get me wrong – I am not in favour of plastic bags.  I am just after a sense of proportion.

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I hate guilt tactics!

I love your post. I, too, have been on the receiving end of passive-aggressive "guilting." Here is my take on plastic bags: I reuse them. I don't empty my groceries then throw them away. They line small trash cans and have a number of other uses. I do my share of recycling and conserving. I sometimes carry my totes for my groceries, but only when I've accumulated more plastic bags than I can use.

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Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for stopping by, Cheryl.  Like you, I also use and re-use plastic bags until they're in shreds – and use them to line my rubbish bin.  I also carry a scrunchable synthetic bag for shopping... But sometimes forget to put it in my bag when I leave the house :–(

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In Ireland we have to pay for

In Ireland we have to pay for a plastic bag so that means most people bring their own. I get what you are saying about being asked if you need a bag. I resent it to be honest. I resent paying so much for my groceries and then having to pay out for something to carry them home in. I carry totes now, well most of the time, but like you said sometimes forget...m

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Yes, I heard that from Irish

Yes, I heard that from Irish friends.  I also hear that the Irish authorities make it a lot easier to recycle, than in England.  Thank you for stopping by and commenting :–)

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Ah, bags and boxes and bins, oh my!

Loved the humor, Katherine. I totally identify.

We have 'permanent' hemp and cloth shopping bags. A disorderly stash occupies the car's backseat. Inside these bags are plastic bags being used for produce.  We don't usually bag the produce, though, unless absolutely necessary. After a while, these bags to their final recycling home as repositories for the kitty litter box taters when the box is cleaned and replenished.

Bags weren't used in Germany. You had to buy them. Many people didn't have a bag but piled everything back into the car and then carted it out and piled it into the trunk. We've adopted that style. 

But then we see all the other plastics being used. Plastic water bottles became forbidden six years ago. No sodas in plastic liter bottles for us, thanks, not hard since we're not soda drinkers. 

Then there is the styrofoam and shipping materials.  We have a small store of that to be re-used. Not being shipping magnates, we often make trips to another place that recycles these materials by providing them to shipping companies.

It's a constant battle for moral, economic and space balance, trying to resolve all the recycling needs, reduce our footprint and cope with our hypocrisy. 

Thanks for another excellent post. Cheers

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Thank you for taking the time

Thank you for taking the time to read and coment, Michael.  Another bee in my bonnet, is energy waste.  We're told to turn down our heating and switch off our lights.  And, all this time, office buildings in the City are lit up like Manhattan, and Formula 1 and motor racing keep using petrol as though there's no tomorrow.

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Situational Dichotomy

It's interesting, isn't it? We use small measures to help save the planet and rationalize that the larger issues are non-issues; they are freedom of choice. Then we dismiss the freedom of choice 'for the greater good'. 

I have been reading about the end days of World War II, when the post war order was being established. FDR told Churchill he wasn't interested in preservering the British Empire. Churchill worried about America's imperial ambitions and Stalin and the Soviet intentions. Poland was being sacrificed for political expediency. 

Each of these world leaders accused the other of doing the same thing, under different terms. America was supposedly altruistic. Britain was supposedly a plunderer. FDR thought the Soviet Union would help establish and preserve world order and stability in Europe. In the end, most of the decisions were being driven by egos.

Then we can look at rights - gay, blacks, religions - clothing styles - speech and politics. Nations and societies often seem to take from one hand to give to another, all while pretending it's not being done. 

That's where I stand with Formula 1, NASCAR, and other motor racing. How can I stand and proclaim my love for the earth and others' rights while I support these wasteful activities. I, like others, have rationalized that they have a reason but our rationalizations are lame. I can't abide them any longer. 

It goes beyond these things, of course. How many pairs of shoes do I need, how many belts do I wear? How far do I need to drive and how often do I need to drive it? How much coffee, beer, wine, do I need to consume? 

Don't even get me started on America's cheese subsidy. It's surreal, tortured logic - or we can substitute free market, tobacco subsidies, corn susidies.... But then, with consuming, business and politics, how often don't we torture logic? I mean, are our cell phones really so important? How important can they be when the main point of some smart phone commercials is that you can keep playing your game as you go to work? (And if a cell phone is so inherently important to your life, must you be subjected to continuous television, internet and print ads to convince you?) Blend religion, economics, family, history and emotion into the logic mix and...well, I need not belabor that. I think I already have.

It's a long process, isn't it, of recognizing who we are, what we do, and what matters, and coping with our double standards. Then you read history and walk through junk shops and museums and wonder....


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Very, very interesting

Very, very interesting information.    

I – with my non-intellectual and simplistic view – see it as governments passing the buck and guilt sense to the little people while, they, themselves, apply Louis XVI's maxim, "Après nous, le deluge" (i.e. I don't care if the flood comes after I've gone)