Monday, December 03, 2007
The number at the top of this page is off by 0.0000000001%
Yes, and that's because today, at Whole Foods this evening I refused my 500th plastic bag since having first stumbled upon this page. That's 500 fewer bags ending up in landfills. I've been counting since I received from Michelle Verges a set of canvas bags that I bring everywhere with me.
This includes small bags, the kind that they give out at gas stations when you buy a can of soda. I hate those little bags the most. What use do I have for a little plastic bag? As if I couldn't hold that 12 ounce can in my own hands?
Because of this general annoyance, the other day, I completed a little observational study and watched bag use at Philadelphia's equivalent to 7-11 (called Wa-Wa), 100 people go through the line. All were offered plastic bags. Seven refused the bag, and 93 accepted the bag. Of the 93 who accepted the bag, 20 threw away the bag at the trash can at the door of the store. So the bag was of use to these individuals for a sum total of less than five seconds.
In psychology, we often speak of the affordances of objects - fuzzy objects have a certain affordance that makes you want to pick them up - sharp objects an affordance that makes you want to handle them carefully. I wonder how much could be changed if just the affordance of the store were changed - if you simply were not offered a bag, but had to ask for one. I doubt that any of those 20 who tossed the bag at the door would have asked for one. For them, in fact, the bag seemed something of an inconvenience - something to get rid of. I admire the seven for simply refusing the bag outright. The problem is to change the 20 into people like me, who have no interest in carting around billions of bags.
But I find the social interaction and reaction of people to be somewhat startled when I refuse bags. Almost as if by refusing a plastic bag, I am violating the store schema we're all used to in which we walk out with our items neatly bagged. An awkward moment of trying to figure out what this means, that I wouldn't take a bag, or that I had my own bag with me. Just the other day, I bought a bottle of cologne, and the clerk made me put a little sticker on it saying "PAID" - as if there was some kind of guard who would have tackled me at the Asian Market and refused to believe the receipt that I had in hand.
Most disappointing in saving 500 bags, that perhaps a dozen or so times, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the clerk throw the unaccepted plastic bag into the trash behind the counter - as if simply because the bag has been pulled from the dispenser that it is in some ways polluted - as if the next person who walked in would be disgusted by a bag not visually pulled from the dispenser thingy. That seems silly, quite frankly.
Hopefully this will change in the future. With blogs like this, it may be possible. I think everyone should start counting the number of bags they refuse!