What if your favorite grocery spot started charging you for every shopping bag they used for your purchases? Would you be furious or would you thank them for reminding you of the true cost to the environment of using excess amounts of plastic bags?
Ever since I started shopping at the Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, where they charge a small fee (15 cents or so) for every bag they provide for your groceries (and these bags are paper, not plastic—kudos to Weavers Way), I’ve been thinking about the need to be mindful shoppers. In particular, I have become an advocate for using re-usable shopping bags. I know plenty of people have already gotten on the bandwagon for this issue, as I have enjoyed seeing the variety of trendy re-usable bags on various grocery excursions, but there are also plenty of people who still don’t believe the “hassle” of bringing your own bag is worth it.
I think the main reason plastic bag users continue with their plastic ways centers on convenience and habit*. The American lifestyle is largely based on how to increase personal convenience, not about how to ensure that our actions cause the least harm possible to other life. Of course, we are not setting out to kill animals or to kill our environment, because we know in the back of our minds that would be bad for us, too, but we don’t really have time to change convenient habits. Our American minds are overloaded with thoughts about our jobs, our relationships, our bills to pay, what to make for dinner, what the to-do list is for tomorrow, when to schedule a doctor appointment, and so forth. How are we to be expected to remember to bring along re-usable shopping bags every time we need to go to the store? What about all those emergency trips or pit stops on the way home for work? I, too, have long been in the habit of stopping by a CVS for some emergency items and thanking the cashier as she hands me yet another plastic bag to add to my collection. But in truth, it would be pretty easy for me to just stick the items in my own tote, backpack, or purse, or to keep several re-usable bags in the car. I’m not saying that one plastic bag from this one emergency trip will kill the environment, but it’s when we make a habit of excessive plastic bag use that Mother Nature takes a hit. Plastic bag use may seem like a petty issue to “attack” amidst humanity’s other environmentally deleterious habits, but small steps add up.
*(If, however, you are just really attached to the fashionable, “iconic,” appearance of plastic grocery bags you don’t have to sacrifice looks for the environment with this bag)
Plastic bags are not biodegradable and often end up as litter in the ocean and on land, killing sea animals and terrestrial creatures alike, they cost us hundreds of millions of dollars in coastal clean-up, and their production process unnecessarily uses up precious nonrenewable sources. For more information on the negative effects of plastic bags AND paper bags, which is some ways are worse than plastic, check out this chart. Did you know San Francisco banned plastic bags? And Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags that successfully reduced plastic bag use by over 90% in merely weeks? Perhaps Ireland’s example can help inspire more states and countries to consider implementing a tax on plastic bag use.
I like Weaver Way’s method of charging for bags. I mean, I don’t like it when I forget my re-usable tote, but I like how it strengthens positive incentives and positive habits. To avoid the cost–and to be environmentally conscious, of course–I keep re-usable bags in my car, and I try to remember to bring a bag with me if I’m walking. I think the monetary incentive is a good way to promote mindfulness and sustainability, and although some customers would be pretty irked if their grocery spot started charging for bags, there is an easy way to avoid the cost: bring your own.