Friday, August 01, 2008

The Bag Lady Cometh....

A few summers ago, when I was home for a visit, I noticed that Rise had a bundle of cloth bags of various stripes that she always took with her when she went shopping. The Irish Government, she told me, disgusted with the horrible festooning of hedgerows throughout the countryside with cheap, indestrucible plastic bags, and horrified, I'm sure, at the thought of the detrimental effect it might have on tourism, decided that shops could no longer pack customers' purchases in free plastic bags. If customers wanted plastic bags they would have to pay for them!

The Irish don't like parting with their pennies any more than the rest of the world, so cloth bags were resurrected from dim corners, cubby holes under stairs, and cobwebby attics, given a good shake, and pressed into service. Almost overnight, the hedgerows were restored to their natural, unadorned beauty.

One small change made an enormous improvement.

So, I thought, if the whole of Ireland can change their evil ways overnight, surely I can do my small part to rid the planet of the plastic pestilence? And pestilence it is.

I used to think I was being virtuous when I'd ask for paper rather than plastic. But according to some articles I read recently, paper bags, while having the advantage of being biodegradeable, are costly and polluting to produce. They do however decompose in a matter of months.

The plastic bags we discard today, on the other hand, will still be around a thousand years from now. Although I'm not sure who made the trip into the future to discover that little nugget of information! It really is a shame that some other, necessary consumer goods can't be made as durable as the pesky plastic bag! Imagine buying a refrigerator today with the confidence that it will still be in use by our descendants, generations from now, while we're busy pushing up daisies!

One of the articles declared plastic bags second only to cigarette butts as nuisance litter. The gentlest breeze renders them airborne. Here in Florida,according to the article, bags are flushed down storm drains into the bays and the gulf, where they get tangled in mangrove thickets, and pose a hazzard to marine life. Wading birds get caught in them and turtles try to eat them, cannot digest the plastic, and die.

In a recent cleanup, volunteers removed 187 plastic shopping bags from one small pond in a park not too far south of here..... For one thing, isn't it appalling that people discard anything, by tossing it wherever and whenever they no longer need it? How much stress would it cause them to take it to the nearest rubbish bin?

It turned out that I had several cloth bags lying around.

One from an AF base we were once stationed at......

One with some company's name stencilled on it.....

Two quilty ones.

And one from a cruise line.

I've never been on a cruise. Inherited that one from the in-laws, who have. It's always the last one I produce, and only if I have to. I'm skittish about being mistaken for the kind of person who goes on cruises. Tootling around on the high seas, eating and drinking more than is necessary, or wise, while half the world starves, visiting places where the yearly per capita income is less than the cost of a ticket for the cruise---not high on my list of things to do before I die......

I kept my bundle of bags in the laundry room, right next to the garage, where, theoretically, I'd see and remember them as I headed out the door. Unfortunately, nobody told the bags they'd have to hiss at me like venomous snakes in order for me to notice them as I sailed by. I'd set off for the store and forget all about them. Until I got there. Fat lot of good they did then, sitting, useless, in my laundry room!

Brilliant idea number two: I decided I'd keep them in the car, on the back seat. Only trouble was, since I usually sit up front while operating the vehicle [Oh ye unbelievers! I have too driven while seated in the back---in my capacity as a Back Seat Driver---ask the OC] I'd still forget all about them until I arrived, cart groaning, at the checkout.

So, I moved them to the front passenger seat. If the penny drops at all around here it drops s.l.o.w.l.y......

I've been doing this for about two years now, and most of the time, unless I'm especially distracted, I remember to bring them into the store. The grocery store staff are used to me now.

The Bag Lady cometh.

Although, just last week, I set my bags on the belt first, then my groceries. There was a new girl bagging that day. She took my bundle of cloth bags and crammed them into a plastic bag!! Sigh........

The object of the exercise is to not use the accursed things at all. Most of them get that. Those who don't are destined to die young from Idonthaveaclueitis. Fortunately, the condition is curable. With the application of a little thought.

So, if you haven't already, find yourself a few sturdy cloth bags.

Then use them.

Every time.

This fellow will thank us.

Too late for this guy,

but his descendents will be grateful!

If even one person reading this is motivated to start using cloth bags in place of plastic, I'll consider that I've done my bit for the environment.

At least for today.


StitchinByTheLake said...

Hi Molly, I've been using cloth bags for some time now and actually love doing it. The bags I have, some bought at WalMart and others collected here and there, hold more than plastic bags and are much easier to carry. The handles are sturdy and don't hurt my hands like the plastic does. Instead of using 6 plastic bags I can get by with 2 cloth ones. If the checker doesn't know how to use them I just show them! I'm sure they love getting instructions on how to bag groceries. :) This week at the grocery the lady in front of me had cloth bags and just had the girl ring an item and hand it to her. She put them in her bags herself, just as she wanted them. I don't mind letting them sack them. :) Blessings, marlene

Tanya Brown said...

Well said!

I've been thinking about making some more bags using my husband's slacks. He wears them out unevenly (I'll spare you and others the details) and there's a ton of perfectly good, heavyweight fabric left when he throws them away. Drives me nuts. Sometimes I rescue them and hide them, but not often enough.

Thimbleanna said...

Before you know it, I'll bet there won't be plastic bags in any of the stores at all. Cloth bags are slowly catching on and all of the big boxes around here offer cloth bags for sale for the lowly price of $1 each.

Personally, I don't really see the need for any bags at all. When we lived in Germany, no one used bags. You put the groceries in the cart, took them out for the cashier, she handed them back to you and you placed them back in the cart and then you took the cart out to your car and unloaded everything into your car. It worked great and I didn't miss having bags at all!

meggie said...

We try to always remember our cloth bags. Over here, we can buy either calico bags, or green ones, made from some fabric that I have my doubts about, but at least they are not likely to cause the death of a turtle whale porpoise, or seabird. We keep our greens in the boot of the car, & are quite good at remembering to get them out.
Of course we can also make our own, which I have done too, but always forget to take those ones!

Haha, laughing at Tanya, I suspect her DH may wear his pants out the same way Gom does, & Liz's DH!!

Sorry to write a book on here, but I cant access my blog, due to site meter. Catch 22, cant take down site meter, because can't access blog!

Frankofile said...

That 'one person' might be me, then. I've been using the 'bag for life' plastic bags since we arrived in France, but the next step is obviously cloth. I'll bear it in mind.

Meanwhile thanks too to Meggie - I wondered why my blog was unavailable, but removed it via blogger and hey presto. But I miss my sitemeter..

Frankofile said...

'it' being sthe site meter code... sorry for my garbling; it's the distress of briefly losing access to my blog

Molly said...

Good for you, Stitchin'!I think more people are catching on in the world in general.....but down here, in God's waiting room, folks are loathe to change the way they've always done it, especially if they suspect the whole idea might have had its origins in the hippy movement! I can understand that lady wanting to bag her own groceries. She's probably had one too many lummoxes do it and got home to find her lettuce squashed under the jars of spaghetti sauce...

Tanya---I've been saving the "good" parts of the OC's and Bean's jeans for years, the plan being that I'll make a quilt from them--you know,the denim and bandana print one that pops up regularly in quilt mags. But it's more likely it'll be one of the things my daughters will look at, and then at each other, after the funeral, and wonder "What on earth was she saving these for?"

Anna---You took me back! I remember Germany too and how all the local Hausfraus had their shopping baskets, which they carried to the market....My daughter bought me a lovely one, which I still use, but for carrying my sewing around, not for grocery shopping!

Aha, Mrs. Holmes! So that's why I've been having trouble getting on some blogs, to read or comment!Hope they sort it out soon.

Frankophile---delighted to hear I have at least one convert----you'll be glad!

thailandchani said...

This would be a great thing for crafty types to start making - the pretty cloth bags. I have a few and use them when I remember. The plastic bags are obnoxious, especially to get rid of them.


Lily said...

Yay Molly! I forgot my bags the other day and was very upset with myself. I've also read you can make usable bags out of old tshirts. Someday soon I'll send you your Mother's Day gift, somewhat related to this post :-)....

jkhenson said...

Wonderful post, Molly! Wonderful! :)I loved the included animal photos, too! :)

Kacey said...

I have a few cloth bags...the canvas ones are really great, but I still wind up with plastic at several grocery stores. One thing about plastic... they are not strong enough to hold very heavy things, so the clerks use twice as many of them as other types. At least, Wal-Mart provides a box to bring back plastic bags for recycling.
It's the heighth of summer here in NW Ohio and very green and beautiful, but the husband is anxious to get back to "God's Waiting Room". I'm afraid to go back...afraid that I might be next in line on the golden stair. Every year two or three people are MIA from our street when we return to Ft. Myers. I don't know how you stand it year round, since you are so young.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

The city of San Francisco made plastic grocery bags illegal a year or two ago, and you're right about the paper ones, too. They do use a lot of trees and the paper mills cause horrible pollution and horrendous smells if the wind is right.

Cloth bags are the way to go. I am disturbingly comfortable with them and think that perhaps I am a bag lady just waiting to happen.

Lovely pix, too, Molly.

Kapuananiokalaniakea said...

I just had this conversation at the grocery checkout yesterday. It's all the talk here in Oregon where there is a move afoot to change the question from "Paper or plastic?" to "Did you bring your own bags or should I charge you .20/bag for you to use one of the store brand, non-recyclable bags?" That opens up the whole discussion as to whether or not it is merely a change in habit that needs to happen or whether it is an undue hardship for those with fewer economic resources.
I was unaware that all of Ireland has already made this transition and, it seems, quite smoothly and without undue fuss.
I have been carrying my reuseable bags in the boot of my car for a few years now. They seem to be quite happy there and are doing a great job of dust collection. Perhaps I will try the front seat method you suggest in your post -- the crab I could be helping may be me!

Stomper Girl said...

The bring your own bag campaign is quite strong in Australia (and MOSTLY I remember to bring mine with me) but our government hasn't quite cracked down hard enough to get the supermarkets to charge for plastic bags. It does make a difference.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Great post! Do you know that the plastic bag companies have actually fought back against some of the localities that tried to ban them?

I need to graduate to cloth bags. But at least I try to reuse the plastic ones I get, and to refuse them in the first place if I'm not buying more stuff than my two hands can carry.

It's insane that a clerk will try to put a pack of chewing gum in a plastic bag.

Pauline said...

I have had the most splendid time reading here. Thanks for your comment on my site. I've had to put my cloth bags on the front seat as well, my memory not being what it used to be. J and I will make that a Laughing On the Way Out post soon. I will add you to my "must read" list, too!

daysgoby said...

Molly, O wise woman, I tagged you!

Chase March said...

I never throw out the plastic shopping bags I get. I reuse them. They are also recyclable. I don't see why so many of them end up floating around here or there.

I like the idea of using canvas bags instead. I use them when I think of it.

But I also like using the plastic shopping bags for garbage bags. I'm a single guy so I don't really need big garbage bags. That's not so bad is it?

Kelli said...

Good for you.

I've been trying to get into the habit of keeping a cloth bag tucked into the bottom of the large purse I carry when going to/from work. That way, if I stop in at the grocery store on my way home after work, I have a bag with me.

Davina said...

Hi Molly.

I've been using cloth bags for close to a year now. I feel so virtuous :-) I don't always use them though. If I'm out and about (I don't drive) and decide spontaneously to pick up some groceries, alas, I have to use their plastic bags.

Love that picture of the Heron!