Lileks: Plastic, you say? That’ll be a nickel a bag – for Uncle Sam

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2013 - 12:07 AM

When choosing paper over plastic at the grocery checkout line, watch out for handles that rely on glue.

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“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.

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