Saturday, July 11, 2009

On Bags and Garbage

It's funny how often a little change causes a big uproar. Then, after an adjustment period passes, everybody gets on board, and we wonder what all the fuss was about. I'm thinking specifically about grocery bags, but it applies to so much in our lives.

I've done groceries with a large knapsack* and several other bags for decades. What's changed for me is that the packers are much more accommodating now. I used to have to tell them, "I've got my own bags," often over and over with increasing volume as they start bagging on auto-pilot. And I'd have to race to the end of the roller to start packing because they rarely packed my knapsack with any thought to what it feels like to have many cans jammed against your spine on the bike ride home. I want some cool bags of milk next to me, thanks. Or at least a largish box of something.

Now I just plunk my bags down at the start of my stuff, and they do it all for me.

Some people were concerned with the new five cent price of bags. It's such a small fee, but a few letter-writers in the local paper were outraged at the injustice of being charged for something that used to be free. And others are still a bit concerned at the potential for bacterial breeding in their food soaked bags. They can be washed pretty easily. I never wash mine, personally, but I like to live life on the edge. And others were worried what they'll put their garbage in without grocery bags to line their cans. I'm tellin' ya, if you use a compost and digester, you won't have any gross garbage anymore, so you won't need a liner in the garbage can.

What I do have in my garbage is lots and lots of packaging. I recycle what's the city will accept, but there's plenty left. For us it's two things: First is the waxy bags inside cereal boxes. We're positively Seinfeldian in our cereal consumption. And secondly, and slightly more embarrassing, junk food wrappers. I know I can make popsicles with healthy freshly-squeezed juice in my freezer, but I guarantee my kids won't eat them. And if they didn't individually wrap them, they'd all stick together. Going garbage-free is a challenge I can only dream of after the kids grow up.

None of the main arguments against trying to eliminate plastic bags can hold a candle to the fact that plastic in the garbage is taking a huge toll on sea life. The Pacific Gyre, a huge waste land of plastics that have largely been swept by wind and water currents into a big pile in the ocean, is now twice the size of the United States. If we care about survival of sea life, and our own survival, then we should do everything we can to stop treating plastic as an easily disposable commodity.

And I really have to get on those juice-popsicles and bulk cereal.

*I must lament that I bought a knapsack from Wilfrid Laurier University in my first year, back in 1986, and used it steadily up until two years ago. I used it daily for groceries and camping and large book purchases and assignments and marking, and it showed no sign of wear at all. Then finally the zipper gave. I have no idea what magic fibres it was made of, but since then I've gone through a knapsack a year. Alas. I'll try to find another use for the one that just self-destructed on me.

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