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!

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

Very interesting that you stood and counted, I don't think I could do that. LOL...

I am one of the ones that refuses bags at convenience stores. They are annoying.

I though am not green enough to take my own bags grocery shopping with me. I accept bags there and yes most of them go to landfill....

arduous said...

I once had an employee at a bookstore ARGUE with me about the plastic bag. He was like "It's already made. The harm has already been done."

Okaaay ... but really. I DON'T need a bag for that one book, thankyouverymuch.

Jenny said...

Since Michelle sent us our reuseable bags (thanks again!), my husband and I have been off the plastic bags. What I've found interesting is the different reactions we've gotten based on where in the country we are. When we started using our own bags, we were living in DC, where most people didn't bat an eye at it - lots of stores sell their own reuseable bags up there. Since then, we've moved to Orlando. Bringing your own bags hasn't really caught on down here yet, and just the concept of either using your own bag or refusing a bag routinely blows people's minds. When presented with my own bag, cashiers have tried to throw it out, charge me for it, or put it in another bag for me. On the positive side, it usually results in a discussion with the cashier about how bad plastic bags are for the environment, etc. So maybe some good is coming of all this...