A supermarket encounter

 Cloth bag
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).

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5 Comments

Filed under environment, stories

5 responses to “A supermarket encounter

  1. Say what you want about reusable bags (and I love them) and logging policy (which I know next to nothing about), but I’m a bit confused about the merits of arguing FOR using disposable bags when there’s an easy, cheap, clean alternative. Should we use twice as much paper then too, just ’cause?

    I had a professor in college who pointed out that the current administration’s “healthy forest” initiative meant cutting them down, which made him very worried when it came to the administration’s “healthy family” initiative.

  2. liz

    Heh… That’s a good point. Well, if you keep making new ones — trees or kids, I suppose — then it doesn’t really matter, does it? (At least, if you follow this couple’s logic. Or this administration’s?).

    The sad thing is, I resorted to pointing out that reusable bags don’t break when you carry them home. I still wish I had guilted them out by giving them one of my extra ones, but these bright ideas only occur to me when I’m done with the conversation…

  3. They sound beyond help. I mean, I can see debating forest policy and the like. But wasting less strikes me as one of those things that’s a basic good thing.

    My guess is they’re just snotty people who don’t like being told they’re wrong and decided to use their education to make you think they were being intentional, not just carelessly wasteful. How could they have known they were talking to a nuclear scientist with general correctness on her side?

  4. liz

    Yah, I’m sure they are. It worries me in a more general sense, I suppose… The bright side is that people do seem to be slowly getting it, and becoming at least a bit more aware about these things. So there’s hope that people like that will eventually be in the minority.

  5. I’d imagine the tipping point thing applies here…once more and more people see everyone else at Stop and Shop (or wherever) using reusable bags, the plastic ones won’t seem like the default, and the reusable ones won’t seem like they’re just for the crunchies. I’m actually surprised that people at Trader Joe’s of all places were fighting on the side of waste.

    As for the bigger issues on the environment, well, uh, I guess it’s a work in progress…

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