The checkout line at my local Trader Joe’s is not usually somewhere people get into arguments about environment, forestry, and America’s response to global warming. But apparently, a few cloth bags and a friendly, environmentally-aware cashier can spur on a discussion pretty much anywhere.
As you might have guessed by now, I was the one at the front of a seemingly infinite checkout line at Trader Joe’s, and the cashier sweetly exclaimed, upon seeing the reusable bags I bring shopping every week, that customers who were aware enough to bring their bags were the best. The guy behind me — bagless, of course — asked if that meant he wasn’t as good. Of course I had to get involved. I pointed to the neat stack of reusable bags on sale (for $0.99 a pop) and said he could join the club, too.
At which point, things started getting weird.
His wife piped up and said it was better for the forests if we cut down trees to make paper bags, citing her husband’s forestry degree as proof. I noted that a) it takes energy to make paper bags, and b) the only reason people can use that argument in any situation is because America’s forestry policy cut out the use of controlled burning a long time ago, which disturbed the natural cycle of forest growth, death, and rebirth, and created this mess in the first place.
At which point, the couple argued that we have houses to worry about. And that the only forests that are logged in the US right now are sustainably-managed.
This is when the awesome cashier added that the trees aren’t the only thing affected by massive clear-cut logging operations. Oh, and that there’s no reason to think all our paper comes from sustainably-managed US forests in the first place. He threw clear-cutting operations going on in the rainforest, for good measure, which the couple said they were (of course) against. But still, they would stick with their paper bags … Why, exactly?
Because America is doing a good job already on the environmental front. Oh, and they don’t shop at Trader Joe’s that often.
Do we live on separate PLANETS?
This worries me. In fact, it infuriates me. Because that’s not how the rest of the world sees us. When you compare our energy / resource consumption in comparison to the rest of the world, we don’t look very good.
I’m not the first one to point this out, nor am I an expert on how far we’ve come in trying to right this imbalance, but I will say that we have a long way to go. And it’s not going to be easy. We’re used to having everything right away, and without any trouble. As a result, we resist any efforts to change using arguments like the one I participated in above. It’s easier to tell the girl arguing about US forestry practices in the checkout stand that she’s in the wrong than it is to admit that we need to change. Our culture needs to change.
So reuse those bags already. And set an example for those who still select between paper and plastic.
I bought my bags from Trader Joe’s or the local supermarket for something like $1 a piece. This way, I can buy enough so I always have a few in my trunk or at the office, and therefore have no excuse for not using them. If you want to do a bit of searching online for yours, here are a few places you can purchase cloth bags, as well as a couple of links that will show you how to make your own. (Note: I’m not endorsing any of these retailers, or suggesting you spend hours on this project. I just thought I’d give you a few easy options).