“Sturdy, reusable mainstay of the grocery industry,” the clerk usually says, “or shabby non-reusable turtle-choker?”
I’m paraphrasing. Paper or plastic, that is the question.
It’s nice when they ask. Some baggers shove everything in plastic as soon as the belt’s moving, and you have to say nay, “Paper, please.” Makes you feel like you’re adjusting your monocle and admonishing the chauffeur for filling the tires of the Rolls with domestic air instead of imported.
Sometimes they shrug and refile from plastic to pulp; sometimes you get a look like you asked them to bubble-wrap the tomatoes and bag everything in alphabetical order.
I hate plastic. It’s a nuisance. If you throw it out you’re bad, because somehow it ends up in the ocean gagging dolphins, so you stuff it somewhere. After a month you have a big bag of bags, which you take to the grocery store and stuff into a bigger bag of bags, which we trust they recycle, much like people who drop off dogs in the country believe they find a home on a farm.
But as long as there’s a recycling logo over the drop-off, you’re good. It’s like an absolution.
Several weeks ago at Target the clerk starting throwing everything in plastic bags, and I had to say: Sorry, old chap, paper’s my game.
“We’re out,” he said.
And so it begins, I thought. An aberration in sunspot activity causes the jet stream to push cold air down, which creates a chemical reaction in a lichen which produces a toxin bees find delicious, which causes a die-off of tree-pollinating bees, which leads to a diminished crop of trees, which means bags are now scarce and will only get scarcer, and this is just a sign of the coming collapse of the ecosystem, and someday we’ll be sitting in dark rooms with one candle telling our grandchildren how once they gave paper bags to anyone, just for asking. With handles, too!
Tell us about the Cub and Rainbow handles, Grampa! Well, they relied on glue, and a man learned not to trust ’em. But that wasn’t the case with Lunds bags, was it? Oh, you kids, you’ve heard this story. No, Lunds handles were made of sterner stuff.
Back to reality.
“You’re out of paper?” I said. “Why? Bees don’t pollinate trees.”
He said someone forgot to order them. I accepted this and added the Procurer of Bags to the list of people I was glad not to be.
The next week, no paper. The clerk said they’d gotten some from another store, but the store got tired of giving them bags and said sorry, bro. Plastic again.
Everything came out of the bags on the way home and rolled around in the trunk. A liter of Diet Coke got so agitated I wanted to call the bomb disposal squad to send around a robot to open it.
The next week: no paper. The manager said they’d switched suppliers. I mean, I can understand wanting the lowest bid, but maybe Craigslist isn’t your go-to source for these things.
The next week: no paper. “We had some earlier,” the clerk said. “But they went fast.” Plastic again. Two bags broke on the way into the house, because the handles are made of a special polymer that make hummingbird wings look like skyscraper girders.
While I hate plastic bags for practical and aesthetic reasons, this doesn’t mean I’m clicking my heels over a bill before Congress that would slap a nickel tax on every bag. It would raise about $19 billion, and the money would go to the Disposable Carryout Bag Trust Fund — to pay for the enforcement of the law.
I have a suspicion it would result in no noticeable diminution in plastic bag use whatsoever. The thought of spending half a dime because I forgot my reusable bags will not make me turn around and drive home. Other than that, sure, great idea.
The bill taxes paper bags, too. I thought I was a good person by choosing paper! Now you’re lumping me with people who toss plastic bags in the crib and say, “Of course it’s a toy! Pretend it’s a hoodie.” But that’s the moral arrangement: plastic is evil, reusable is virtuous, and paper is for those who haven’t sufficiently evolved.
If the purpose is to discourage bag usage, here’s a thought: Let people choose a charity to receive the nickel.
Being forced to contribute to a charity when you’re checking out of the grocery store seems wrong — well-intentioned, but coercive, like forcing people to donate to a food shelf when they eat at a restaurant. Being forced to pay a fine for using the Wrong Bag, even if the money goes back into the Wrong Bag Enforcement division, results in no appreciable reduction in bag usage, and benefits no charity at all: totally normal.
Suggestion: Nickel rebate for every bag we recycle. We get the money instead of them, and can adjust our behavior as we see fit.
Sounds mad, I know, but it just might work.