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It’s Not Easy Going Green

Whole Foods

Whole Foods

So I decided to try out the whole “reusable grocery bag” thing that seems to be so trendy these days.

I’m normally irritated by celebrities’ exhortations to “go green,” buy a new, fuel-efficient car, spend more money on foods that don’t last as long, take mass transit when there isn’t any.

I’m not whining, and I’m not trying to avoid the issue — in fact, I think this is the reality of many Americans. How am I supposed to “go green” when it is so inconvenient and, most importantly, I can’t afford it?

Enough “hug your trees” nonsense from upper middle class people who live in cute little non-suburbs and walk to the subway and the grocery store and can get a taxi just by stepping outside. Where are the “go green” suggestions for people like me, people who don’t live on one of the coasts; have no access to mass transit, spend 40 minutes to drive 10 miles to work and have only been in a taxi when it involves the airport?

By the way, if you’re thinking I live in some tiny little town… I don’t, I live in one of the 10 largest cities in the US!

So anyway, I tried the bag thing.

It is inconvenient.

Using them at Whole Foods is no big deal. Everyone expects you to. The only problem there is that the bags are so huge that they are too heavy to carry when they are full. Of course that’s what baskets are for, I guess.

Using them at Walmart was a different matter entirely. The bags are at the front of the store, only on one side, hard to find and difficult for the cashiers to open. Also, since I am usually the only person in the store using these things, I’m constantly worried that I’m going to be stopped by security and searched for bringing several large black bags into the store. And since the bags say “Walmart” and look just like the ones they’re selling, how will they know that I didn’t steal them? So I feel very uncomfortable with them.

I also found that self checkouts aren’t designed for these things. The machine kept telling me not to put things on the scale that I hadn’t paid for. (?!) I just used a plastic bag, stuck it in the reusable bag, and moved on.

And what about the plastic bags? Well, I actually re-used every plastic bag I ever got — I use them for the litter box. When I realized I was completely out of bags, I ran to the pet store and got a pack of 100 tiny plastic bags (actually some sort of biodegradable cornstarch — I swear I’m not going for overkill!) for $10.

The next hurdle is actually remembering to have the bags on hand when I go somewhere. I’ve developed a system of keeping them in the trunk, using them when I run to the store, unloading them, then placing them by the door for the next time I get in the car. So far, it seems to be working.

The point of this is that if you’re going to ask Americans, mainstream, regular “freedom isn’t free” Americans to “go green,” you also have to make it easy. Avoiding certain products, making a “system” for bags and planning extra time and then getting bags for the cat or dog… it’s been a disruption in my routine, and all I’m doing is discontinuing PLASTIC BAGS! And I don’t have any kids or anyone else in my household to deal with.

I think of the families of my students, many of whom are quite poor and just trying to get food on the table, and you want them to worry about plastic bags? In order for people to “go green,” it will have to be accessible and real to them, not the ideal of some lofty, far-away group of people. (I have similar feelings about the food industry and its middle class fetishizing of “organic food” and “eating healthy.”)

I like the bags, myself. I even like the biodegradable cat bags. It is just a new habit to learn.

  1. ellear
    February 1, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    You posted this back in November, but I agree with you about the whole “go green”/Wal-mart thing. I like to shop at Wal-mart for my groceries and always bring my big, over sized Whole Foods bags with me. I try to be environment conscience and I feel like it comes back at me. The cashiers, never know how to pack the bags without packing them so full I can barely lift them into the cart to get out of the store. I try to help, but then I think I come off as arrogant. Now add that to the fact that I am at Wal-mart of all places, and I have reusable bags with me….seems sort of off doesn’t it?

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