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Thursday, July 28, 2011

New Orleans' plastic bag problem

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 6:11 PM

A bag that once contained a tube of lipstick and pack of gum.
  • A bag that once contained a tube of lipstick and pack of gum.

Today I visited the grocery store near the office for a carton of milk and some yogurt, which I decided I could easily carry out the store using my hands and gigantic purse. When I told the women working at the checkout counter that I wouldn't need a plastic bag for my items, one of them asked derisively, "Why, are you trying to save the environment?"

I've gotten similar responses in the past after politely refusing a bag — either because I've brought my own or didn't think the pack of Tic-Tacs I purchased needed its own three-gallon-sized vessel. I'll either get an eyeroll or snarky comment like the woman's today, or the baggers will decide to just stop doing their jobs because I've brought my own bags. The latter scenario invariably creates this embarrassing struggle for me to hurriedly bag my groceries before the growing line behind me gangs up and murders me.

Look, I'm no Portlandia character. Although plastic bags are poison-filled wildlife killers, I bring my own bags to stores because — like many reusable products — they are just way better than their disposable counterparts (I had the same experience with resuable menstrual products). They hold more stuff, they're less likely to break and I can tote them around the store and use them to carry my groceries. The bags from the local company Repax are small enough to stuff into my purse or pockets. They're cute! And plus, I just hate how plastic bags accumulate in my house. There's only so many tiny trash cans you can line.

Reusable bags are an eco-friendly thing I assumed most people — regardless of socio-economic status — can get behind, unlike overpriced organic rice milk ice cream sandwiches or the majority of Whole Food's health and beauty section. They're a practical, inexpensive way to waste less. So why the resistance in New Orleans?

Many countries in the world ban plastic bags, with San Francisco being the first American city to ban them. Washington D.C. was the first place to impose a five-cent tax on shoppers requesting a disposable bag (paper or plastic). I wonder how many light years away Louisiana is from passing similar laws, given the attitudes I've experienced.

I'm not saying shoppers are the ones resistant to reusable bags, because I see them frequently. I just wish stores in the city would do a better job at promoting the use of them — which could be as easy as asking "Do you need a bag?" Wouldn't that save the grocery stores some money?

Building comprehensive public transportation and re-outfitting 100-year-old homes and buildings with ductless air conditioners and rainwater cisterns are eco-friendly initiatives that take time and money in New Orleans, where those things could be better used toward, I don't know, making sure our levees work and getting people to stop killing each other. However, applying the BYOB approach to bags instead of booze is an easy, inexpensive step in the right direction, and something even people not so concerned with "saving the environment" can get behind.

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