A couple of weeks ago, my mom (the loving mother that she is) bought me a bunch of groceries and delivered them in a reusable grocery bag, which she let me keep. This was actually a novel concept to me; I’d never given much thought at all to the question of grocery bags before, and the idea of a reusable one had honestly never occurred to me. It piqued my interest enough though that I brought it with my on my next trip to the supermarket, and have since acquired a few more to meet all my grocery bagging needs.
In retrospect, it seems an idea that’s both obvious and genius. The bags I now use hold many more groceries that the disposable bags found at the supermarket. They have strong handles or shoulder straps, and are thick enough that they don’t break even if I fill one of them to the brink with soda bottles. The most difficult part of using them is convincing the bagging clerk to use them, as the request. When I’m done, I stash them under the sink and pull them out again for my next trip to the supermarket – I’ve yet to feel this is an inconvenience.
This idea underscores something far more profound than mere grocery bags though. I feel almost humiliated that I’ve lived for nearly a quarter century before an idea like this even occurred to me. I just took the disposable bags offered at the checklist line, and threw them out after I’d gotten home and unpacked them. We live in the most wasteful society in the history of mankind, and it’s clear that I’m a part of it.
I think it’s a great thing that our civilization is finally getting its head together with regards to resource management, recycling, global warming, and other environmental issues, but now I can’t help but feel these efforts are misguided. Recycling paper bags is nothing compared to not using them in the first place – in trying to minimize our environmental impact, we’re concentrating our efforts on the wrong side of the equation.
And it seems to me that these kinds of changes would be much easier to implement than recycling programs and other technological solutions. Imagine if the grocery store simply didn’t offer paper or plastic, but instead sold reusable bags at the checkout? Supermarkets would be happy; it would turn an expense into one more thing they could sell. People would likely bitch at first, but then get used to it and even come to appreciate them as I have. And we’d be that much less wasteful as a society.