Plastic Bags

By Terry Plotkin
This is a copy of a Letter to the Editor that I sent to my local newspaper:
Five hundred billion to one trillion: That is the estimated number of plastic grocery bags that are being used in the world each year. Greenfield has a chance to pass an ordinance to join cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and many others that have already instituted the ban on plastic grocery bags. If these big cities can pass a law, surely Greenfield can too. A trillion bags is a lot of plastic, a lot of petroleum, a lot of pollution, a lot of garbage, all of it unnecessary.
 Walk into any supermarket and observe the number of plastic bags that go into each order. Three items in, then grab another bag. What a waste. This ban will encourage consumers to bring their own cloth bags when they shop.
It is not hard to keep a few canvas bags in your car and bring them into a store. The Recorder suggests what is needed is more education, but most people won’t change their behavior until they have to. The ordinance requires you to pay 10 cents for each paper bag you take; most people will quickly convert to reusable bags, and it won’t be a big deal either. The stores will save money, as they as they are the ones who are now paying for the bags. There will be less litter on the streets and less having to be hauled away. The town will make revenue off the 10 cent fee and that will go towards increasing recycling around town. The environment will be better off.
I met someone from Washington D.C. recently, and the topic of the Greenfield plastic bag ordinance came up. The woman stated that since her city placed a 5 cent fee on each plastic shopping bag, that you hardly ever saw them anymore.  She said it looks strange to her now when she goes to another town and sees how many bags are being used. I checked out the statistics to see if what she said was true. The answer: Washington has seen its plastic bag usage drop from 22 million to 3 million bags per month. They use the money collected to clean up the Anacostia River.
We can do this.  I urge the Town Council to take the lead in making the ban happen.  If we are serious about wanting to be a green town, then we have to back it up with practical actions.

2 Responses to “Plastic Bags”

  1. I am with you on this. Here’s my story.

    In my life, I’ve worked dozens of different jobs from picking up balls at a driving range to being VP at an employee benefits company. Out of all those jobs, one of my favorites was being a bag boy at our local supermarket.

    I don’t know why but I took great pleasure in pulling grocery items off the belt and putting them in bags. There is an art and science to it. My goals were to fill the bags as quickly as possible, while completely filling each bag, making sure nothing was damaged, that the final weight was manageable and would not tear the bag.

    I got really good at this. I used the grasp and throw method – picking up an item with my left hand, throwing it with some force, catching it with my right hand positioned over the top of the bag, and swiftly placing the item into the bag in it’s perfect place. I was really fast and customers would stare in awe as they saw their items snatched off the belt in rapid succession and sent flying into the bag like some mystical juggling routine.

    The bags I packed were perfectly squared off, every corner filled, every item stacked and stable. The bags would fit in the cart like blocks fit into a perfect square, and if they needed to be stacked, they fit on top of each other making perfect Mayan pyramids pushing out into the parking lot.

    Ok, sorry I got carried away a bit, but I have a relevant point. I’ll continue.

    Sadly, I moved on in my life and couldn’t be a bag boy anymore. But I never lost my love and appreciation of a well-packed bag. Every visit to the supermarket found me enjoying the check-out more than the shopping.

    Then, about 20 years ago, I noticed a disturbing trend – plastic bags at check-out stands. In some stores, these bags completely replaced paper. Over and over again,
    I watched cashiers and bag boys take plastic bags, and (as you, Terry, note) put 3 or 4 items in a single bag. No attempt to fill the bag, no attempt to stack things so the bag could stand on its own. Just a careless, thoughtless discarding of items in these soul-less pouches. Worst yet, I was forced to carry these shapeless miscreants into the lot, into my car, and onto my kitchen table – all flopping over, spilling, and spoiling an otherwise perfect event of bringing food into the home.

    So you see, there is more at stake than the poisoning of the environment. There is a tragic loss of the artistry practiced by those bag boys oddly passionate about how groceries are treated – and how carelessness in any endeavor sucks the humanity out of the things we do.

  2. I, too, use to be a bag boy and I too was very fast. I did not see it as the art that Birdman does though. The first day on the job the cashier told me to square off each bag so if a pie came down in its cardboard box to put it on the bottom. And I did! I found out later she was kidding me. Being embarrassed is not easy to forget.
    I bring in my back pack now and often on my bike so everything HAS to go in the bag. This calls for careful packing. I could use some of Birdman’s artistry.

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