Thursday, August 23, 2007

Confronting Bag Attitudes

Earlier this month, the New York Times filed a report on the consumption of plastic bags. While several legislative changes have been proposed and implemented across the country, and more grocery stores are promoting the sale of reusable bags, some consumers are resisting these bag changes.

I was particularly struck by this quote in the NY Times article:

“I would never be convinced to bring my own bags. Never,” Kathy Young of Dix Hills, N.Y., said recently as she pushed a shopping cart loaded with plastic bags of groceries and her young twins, Dylan and Sarah. “I can hardly remember what I need to get here, let alone bring my own bags.”

This response fascinates me for a number of reasons. First, I'm dismayed by this person's belief that they would be so impervious to change. Perhaps she may reconsider her stance if she had to pay for those plastic bags, or if a social stigma were associated with using plastic bags. Second, this negative attitude signals a missed opportunity for teaching her kids how to become environmentally responsible. It's an understatement to say that children are influenced by their parents (well, that is, until they become teenagers!). This parent could serve as a good role model to her kids by using reusable bags. And third, her comment reminded me of some current research in cognitive psychology, which focuses on people's remembering to perform an intended action (i.e., bringing reusable bags to the grocery store).

More details about prospective memory later, but in the meantime, here's two simple tricks to help folks remember to bring their bags to the grocery store. If you're the type of person who writes a shopping list, just write a note to yourself (like "bring bags!") on that list. And always keep a stash of bags in your car. That way, if you're forgetful like I am, at least the bags will be stored in the car for you to retrieve while you're at the grocery store.


MB said...

I think there are alot of people out there who will not change their environmental habits unless it hits their wallet. In some parts of Europe and in Australia they have been charging customers a "bag tax" of 10-15 cents per plastic bag at checkout for years. In Ireland, the tax created a 95% reduction in plastic bag use. I'm sure the plastic industry lobby in the US would fight it tooth and nail, but I believe it's the way to make it truly work.
I think shoppers seeing other shoppers using cloth bags makes a difference, too. I think there are those people that think only old hippies use cloth bags, but that's changing. That's why it's important to get more into the marketplace. I've had a lot of people notice my bags (I design my own & sell them at and ask me about them. Even that insane Anya Hindmarch bag craze was good for awareness. Little by little, I believe we'll see the change come.

Anonymous said...

Another way to remember, besides having cloth bags in your car, is to always carry a few plastic bags in your purse or backpack. They don't take up very much room at all and can be reused many times. I've heard comments from people who say that they have the canvas bag in the car but then forget to bring it into the store. And once they are in the checkout line, they don't want to take the time to go back out to their car to get the bags. If they had plastic bags in their purse, brief case, even wallet (they really do scrunch up that small) they would never run into this problem.

I'd rather see people reuse plastic bags that already exist than purchase new reusable bags anyway. I think it's always better environmentally to use what we already have rather than make new things, even if the new things are more environmentally friendly. So if people already have plastic bags from previous trips when they forgot to bring the cloth, they ought to use those. Just my 2 cents.

Also, why oh why do stores have to use SO MANY plastic bags? They put just a couple of items into each bag, and often use double bags, when they could really use fewer.

Experimentaholic said...

Kathy Young - Way to make yourself look like an idiot by confessing your lack of environmental concern to a reporter for the New York Times! Being from Dix Hills, I imagine she was pushing the cart towards her SUV, as well. But I feel bad for the woman, having to push her own cart...what she needs is a shopping cart with an engine that runs on a mixture of gasoline and endangered species that somehow then spews nuclear waste so that she doesn't have to strain her arms?

What I do to remember the bags is that I have them on nails when I go out the door. So I won't forget. Unfortunately, sometimes I go to the store not from home but from I keep a few bags there as well. It isn't like having to remember pi to the 10,000th digit. Kathy Young - if you can remember that you have two twins who you have to take to the store, you can remember to bring some reusable bags as well.

Meghan said...

Okay, I'm sorry, but what a horrible excuse for a human being. This woman would NEVER use reusable bags. NEVER!!! Why? Because she can't remember them.

And someone with this IQ was allowed to spawn children.

That is truly scary.

grimsaburger said...

That's a tad harsh, but I get your point. It's just really difficult for some people to fathom changing their habits, especially when changing a habit looks like it's going to take a lot more work. What we know is that remembering to bring reusable bags isn't really that big of a deal, because the end goal of conservation is so important. It just hasn't reached that level in this woman's mind yet. I'm sure getting her kids and all the paraphernalia does a lot towards crowding out what must appear to be a "luxury" thought to her.
I think this is why I"m such a big fan of paying a nominal 10-15¢ per bag like I did when I lived in Ireland last spring. It cured me of the plastic bag habit right quick.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I always have two fabric carrier bags in my handbag that way I don't need a plastic carrier even if I'm buying something unexpected. We also have fabric carrier bags scattered around the house at strategic locations

But returning to that woman's response, so many people won't do their bit for the environment if it seems just that little bit more difficult - or even just that little bit different - than what they usually do. I can't fathom that at all, for me finding environmentally friendly solutions to problems is fascinating, it keeps my brain working, it may even stop me developing Alzheimers later in life!