How many reusable bags to you have in your car or home? Do you use them when you shop? Who would have thought that reusable bags, thought to be the solution to plastic bag pollution, would become a problem?
Reusable bags were meant to supplant flimsy plastic grocery bags – the one-use, petroleum-based bags that critics say last for centuries and all too often wind up as litter or in the guts of sea life.
It’s not clear the reusables have done that in any significant way. Indirect measures suggest that plastic bag production has remained relatively steady.
What is clear is that reusables have taken off as a cultural phenomenon, social statement, and even art form.
“People are accumulating too many of these, so we’re back to the original problem,” said Vince Cobb, a Chicago businessman who reinvented himself as a reusable-bag expert and salesman at www.reuseit.com.
Not every reusable bag is environmentally equal. A nonwoven polypropylene bag, for example, would have to be used just 11 times to make up for the negative effects of a plastic bag used one time, according to a British Environment Agency study that compared bags. A cotton bag, however, would have to be used 131 times.
Perhaps it was inevitable that a culture hooked on shopping would find itself obsessed with bags. But there is a problem.
A grocery bagger in Texas quipped:
“Reusable bags are the pits. They are hard to bag; they take longer to bag leading to longer lines and longer times at the checkout. People hand or throw them at the bagger. They’re all wadded up inside one bag. They come in so many sizes it’s difficult to use them. I’ve found them with dead bugs, live ants, used condoms, trash and even lost credit cards in them. If people only had respect for those of us who have to put up with their nastiness, it would help.”
And this was the comment from a checkout clerk:
“As a cashier (of a large national grocery chain) I have a quota for how many items I scan per hour. The people who bring in their own bags drive my coworkers and I crazy! It’s time consuming … people never bring as many reusable bags as they need, and when you tell them you’re going to have to use plastic bags for the remaining groceries they freak out like you just killed a baby polar bear and they want you to remove the items and stack them back inside the reusable bag like a game of Tetris to “make it work.”
I have to admit that I did not realize the problems that reusable bag cause these hard working grocery professionals. Robin Shreeves the Stay-at-home mom blogger about finding eco-friendly food options came up with these Ten Commandments of Reusable Bag Use to help our friends at the grocery.
- Empty bags completely after use.
- Wash all bags regularly, after every use if necessary.
- Use bags that are easy for the cashier to fill.
- Place your reusable bags at the front of your grocery order on the conveyer belt so the cashier knows you have them and want them to be used. Don’t freak when the cashier starts putting your groceries in plastic bags if you haven’t let her know you have reusable’s.
- Separate all bags so the cashier can easily grab each one as needed.
- Open bags that fold up into themselves while you are waiting in line. Don’t make the cashier wait for you to open them or worse, make the cashier open them.
- Let the cashier know how you want your order handled if you don’t have enough reusable bags. Realize it’s your fault for not bringing enough and politely say something like “I’d like the remaining groceries to be put in paper bags, please.”
- Remember when you bring reusable bags that many cashiers see you as a representative of all environmentalists. Being on your “high horse” can turn people off wanting to do good.
- Show respect to your cashier by saying please and thank-you, helping to bag, smiling, and staying off your cell phone while she is waiting on you.
- Never put a used condom in your reusable bag.
More companies are giving bags away as promotional items, if you already have enough, be polite and say No Thank You.