When I first moved to this area fifteen years ago, bringing your own bags to the store was viewed as extremely odd. If I passed another shopper carrying his/her own bags, it almost always led to a smile, knowing that we had something in common.
Today, that has changed tremendously. Each superstore in our area sells their own particular brand of bag. I do have a few of these. In particular, I do like the ones my grocery store sells which are insulated. Very ice-cream friendly!
Carrying your own bags to the store is a great illustration for what are now known as the Three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.
Our society made the switch to plastic grocery bags rather easily, because it was easy to convince the public of the good of using a bag that could be recycled. Many stores also provided boxes where you could return your bags to the store to be recycled. Using plastic that could be recycled was a great first step, but the past 10-15 years have shown that we are ready to move beyond that.
The other two steps, reuse and reduce, take a little more thought. Making the switch to cloth grocery bags involves reducing the demand for plastic when you refuse to take the plastic bag. When you bring your bags each time you visit a store, you will reuse them many, many times.
I have to admit, Fred was originally the leader in our cloth-toting relationship. Especially when I was teaching, I would stop by the store on the way home---without my cloth bags. My intention to bring bags to the store was good, but I had poor follow-through. Later, when I was carrying babies into the store in the middle of winter, it seemed like a burden to think of carrying one more thing. I admit, it wasn't until Jewel was about four years old that I became really serious about taking my own bags to the store. How could I show that I was serious about making a difference if I wasn't willing to take this step? (Plus, it helped that Jewel could be in charge of the bags, helping take them to the car, making sure I didn't forget them on our way in.)
Here's what I have learned along the journey:
- I carry twelve bags to the store each week. Why so many? Many bags make light work. If I take only a few bags, my groceries may fit, but they'll be too heavy and awkward to carry.
- Not all baggers appreciate or know the intricacies of packing cloth grocery bags. And I'm a picky consumer. So I've learned to give specific directions, such as "I brought more bags than you will need. Please pack them light." I also remember to line my items up on the conveyor in the order I want them bagged. Anything that needs to stay cold goes first, then any boxes/jars, then any household cleaning items. I also very politely take a stand against poor bagging, and explain (if needed) why I prefer my lettuce to be at the top of the bag.
- Carrying cloth bags isn't an "all or nothing" proposition. (Here's your Small, SMART Step!) Not everyone has 12 cloth bags to carry to the store. But cloth bags have become more popular in recent years, and I'm willing to bet most households have two or three sitting around. Next time you make a trip to the store, bring those two or three bags along. In that small action, you will have reduced the demand for plastic, while reusing something you already own.
- Make it simple! Tuba Boy and I have simplified the bag relationship even further. After we come home and unpack the groceries, the bags immediately return to a position close to the front door. During the days that follow, we remember to return them to the trunk of the car. Thus, we never arrive at the store without our bags. Here's a shot of our entryway. Our bags are neatly folded inside my favorite bag from the Environmental Defense Fund, with the image of our Earth gracing the front.
So...how many of you already carry your own bags to the store?
Thanks for joining me on the journey!