Monday, April 19, 2010

Paper or plastic?

Yesterday I bought groceries. I always try to use reusable bags with my groceries. I first started doing this in the mid-90s, back when I lived in California, and it was a perfectly normal thing to do in the Bay area. Back then people just used whatever reusable bags they had around, whether they were canvas, cloth, mesh, or old paper bags. None of the bags were the same size and no one cared. None of the stores had thought of selling reusable bags emblazoned with their logos on them yet. Over time I acquired a collection of odd bags consisting of old cloth book bags, canvas bags that once held swag from a major Bay Area tech company, a couple of premiums from the Nature Conservancy, and even a semi-fashionable cloth tote bag or two. Some of these bags are almost thirty years old. I don't mind if they get stained or dirty; I just run them through the wash every so often. I try to put them in the trunk of my car as soon as I empty them so I'll always have them with me. Now I use them at other places, too, like Goodwill or the fabric store. In fact, I feel insanely guilty if I forget my reusable bags and will return to the car to get them if I remember before getting inside the store.

But then I moved back to Virginia in 1997 and when I tried to use my re-usable grocery bags at a grocery store, the employees acted as if I had asked them to ride a unicycle while wearing a chicken suit. They were perplexed by the idea that I might not want to use their plastic bags. Some of them were utterly confused by the bags I had brought in with me. I had one cashier tell me that she didn't know how to use "those other bags." She seemed offended when I suggested that she just open one up and put my groceries in it. Thankfully enough people use reusable bags now that cashiers no longer seem put off by the idea of not using their store's plastic bags.

However, I ran across a new situation at the grocery store yesterday. The cashier was young, tall, and skinny as only as a geeky man in his early 20s can be. He looked at the pile of reusable bags I put in front of him as if he didn't trust them. As he hung up my bags by their straps to start filling them, he commented that some of them were "awfully weird." I asked him what he meant by that, and he gestured to the one of the smaller bags and pointed out that the straps were almost as long as the bag and they didn't fit on the rotating plastic bag dispensers very well. I suggested that he just use the smaller bags for smaller items. He shrugged and asked "Where'd ja get these weird bags anyways?" I politely told him that I'd been using my own reusable bags for a long time and that none of the stores sold their own reusable bags back then, so of course none of my bags were the same size, shape, material, or color. He mulled that idea over for a minute before asking me, "Have you ever watched old reruns where they're in a grocery store and the cashier just puts the groceries in a *paper* bag? Man, that's like ancient history or something."

I wanted to tell the guy that I remember when the cashiers would even take your bags out to your car for you, but I was afraid the concept would be more than his little brain could handle, so I just paid for my items and left. Well, fled is more like it.

No comments: