Paper Please

Seattle is a very environmentally conscious city: there are all-electric buses, people bike everywhere, and most of the city is powered hydroelectricity. One of the most noticeable  city wide environmental efforts is the ban on plastic bags at retailer stores. This seems like a good step forward towards removing objects which are significantly harmful to the environment, but I’ve found that in most places within the city its been taken a little to far; “Paper or plastic?” has become “Will you be needing bags?“. Moving away from plastic bags the effort has been made to skip paper bags and jump to reusable ones. So whenever one goes shopping there is an expectation to remember to bring along however many tote bags as will be needed. This is nothing out of the ordinary, as many grocers and shopping centers around the nation have also adopted this model. The Seattle system only breaks down when you forget to bring the reusable bags.

Here is a stage by stage breakdown of how most of my checkouts have gone:

Stage 1: The cashier sees that you do not have any reusable totes with you, but asks anyway if you need any of their precious stock of paper bags. You answer “Yes, I’ll be needing some paper bags today” and you add a bit about how you’ve forgotten your usual reusable bags if you your feeling extra guilty that day.

Stage 2: The cashier gives you a look like you are the single most responsible person for all the environmental damage man has caused over the past century. They then begins ringing up and bagging your items.

Stage 3: Out of concern for the environment, or simply being out of practice, the cashiers proceed to do the worst job possible. Because the bags are paper, they must be as fragile and easy to rip as tissue; so it would be irresponsible to put too many items in a bag. Maybe four will do? Nah, too much just stick with three. These bags were once living breathing trees, remember that too. So any Item that’s larger than a loaf of bread should be placed outside the bags or directly into the cart. In the end you end up with a few items loosely in bags and a lot of loose items in your cart. I don’t think they fully understand that I, a single person, have to carry my purchase and awkwardly sized loose items require two hands when a bag does not.

Step 4: Charge the customer for the bags. I understand that this is meant as a financial slap on the wrist for not remembering to bring a reusable tote bag, but after going through a process where the person working the counter has treated each of these bags as precious store resources I find out I’m purchasing them! If the bags are costing me then I would please like you to use as many as are needed. An extra $0.05 per bag to carry a hundred dollars worth of groceries is really trivial.


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