Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Happy holidays! Love to you all, both near and far. Today's post comes from my friend Len, who reads my blog regularly but never comments! So he's making his debut by sharing his holiday travels (and personal journey involving bags, of course!) with us. I hope you enjoy his post! :0) M

Driving home from Louisville, KY on the 22nd of December, it occurs to me that this can be a strange and paradoxical season. It’s the winter solstice and, as if on cue, the temperatures drop and the wind blows icy cold creating a numbing chill. This uncomfortable condition is only exasperated by my somewhat twisted sense of obligation and competition that finds my home thermostat – now at 62 degrees --creeping ever lower. But, at the same time, this is a time of hope. The shortest day of the year means that the sun has turned and the days will now start to get longer. And by design, the early Christians chose this time of the year to celebrate the birth of Jesus. So,what does this all have to do with an environmental blog about plastic bags?

I guess it comes down to a question as to whether you are a “glass half full” or “half empty” kind of person. Or, perhaps more appropriately, are you a “landfill half empty” kind of person. Do the winds of December depress you or does the knowledge that we are now 1 day closer to Spring bring you some comfort? Me, well, I am a dyed-in-the-wool fence-sitting kind of guy.

Last week, I was at Martin’s and I turned down a plastic bag – again. I have not kept track of how many times I have done so, but I know it is more than the number of dates I have had in the past two years. So, that is a good thing. But, at the same time, I feel like I am jousting with windmills, unable to make even a blip of a dent in the number of bags that fly out the door of even this one store. So, to try to make my bag refusal more than an empty gesture, I always tell the checkout person WHY I refuse the bags and remind them that they are the first line of defense against this insidious plague. Usually I get a blank stare or a protest that limiting the number of bags they give out could directly correlate with the time they spend in the unemployment line. But this time, the two people behind me agree and chime in, and even the check out lady says, “You’d be amazed at how many people turn them down.” And, they next day, the bagger, a young man in his late teens, adds to my speech, “Yeah, they are bad for the environment.” So, I am feeling better about life in America. Some people actually do get it.

But then, the next night I am staying at a Holiday Inn Express in Louisville, and all I can see, everywhere I look, is plastic. The wastebaskets and ice buckets are lined with plastic bags. There are two bars of soap, each wrapped in a tiny little plastic bag. The coffee for the coffeemaker is in a plastic bag. And, the plastic cups are wrapped in little plastic bags. I am staying in a plastic hell.

But, every ying has its yang. The next day I go grocery shopping with my son and I am shocked – and elated – to learn that he has purchased 10 reusable shopping bags from Meijers! The bags cost him $1 each, but he gets 5 cents off the contents of every bag he uses. He tells me the bags are also available at Krogers. So, there is some financial incentive for him and grocery shopping suddenly became fun for me, as I proudly bagged and toted his groceries.

So, back in the “Bend” I head off to Martins once again. It is now noon on Christmas Eve and I am still on a little bit of a high from my trip to the Louisville Meijers. The parking lot is packed and I feel fortunate to have found a reasonably close parking. I walk across the lot and see a guy I know vaguely from somewhere. We both are in the Christmas spirit and we exchange a nod, a smile and a quick hello. Then I enter the store and suddenly I experience the strangest sensation. The aisles are packed and patrons are stacked 6 deep at every available checkout counter. I am sure there must have been some music playing and some decorations and Poinsettias, but all I can see – I mean ALL I can see – are plastic bags. Plastic bags bombard my visual senses. I can see NOTHING else. Dozens of full stuffed bags huddled in shopping carts, hundreds of bags pouring out the door, and thousands more lined up like piles of deadly ammunition waiting their turned to be fired off into the world. Baggers are grabbing them and filling them faster than I could ever hope to count. My second thought – right after, “damn you, Michelle!” – is the utter hopelessness of the battle we are waging.

Suddenly, I am depressed. It’s Christmas Eve, and I am depressed. I trudge off and buy three apples, carrying them in my hand rather than using the plastic bags provided. I pick up a jar of peanut butter and head for the express lane. The guy in front of me is a friend of mine. He is an attorney, and one of the most unemotional and stoic people I know. We chat briefly, then it is his turn in line. He has only one item, and he refuses the bag! I congratulate him on his decision and he says to me as he is leaving, “We all do what we can.” !

Finally, I, too, turned and left. As I passed the final checkout lane a lady was paying for her load of groceries. Like so many others, her cart was stuffed with bags. But these bags looked different. I walked over to take a closer look – they were re-usable bags from http://www.papernorplastic.com/. And once again, I was a landfill half empty kind of guy.

1 comment:

Fake Plastic Fish said...

I really love this post because I often find myself feeling totally schzizophrenic (I can't even spell the word properly) around the issue of plastic and people's awareness. One place I go, people are carrying their reusable bags, but then they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are filling them up with plastic-packaged items. Then, I go to work, where they think nothing at all of using millions of doubled plastic grocery bags.

The problem with the Paper Nor Plastic bag that you mention is that it's lined with vinyl, a.k.a. PVC, which is one of the worst polluting and unhealthy plastics around. Sigh...