I am a good boy when it comes to plastics, mainly.
I do own reusable totes, many of which were given to me as swag at the 2011 national auto show for some reason. Nor do I ask for a straw if the garçon does not bring me one. Sometimes I may even thank his establishment for not passing out straws, unless I am in a particularly crabby mood, which, come to think of it, I usually am.
I view paper, reed and hemp straws with bland indifference. It seems like overreach, a lot of effort to replicate a product that is not crucial to existence. My own personal Bell Curve of Straw Appreciation peaked in the mid-elementary school grades, a time otherwise known as the Spitwad Years.
Today, of course, as straws are fading from the limelight, plastic bags are stepping up. They will be gone by March 1st in New York, and other states are certain to follow. That means we will live in a country where any mental patient can get a Ruger Mini 14 with tactical folding stock, P4 sniper scope and all the steel-core ammo and high capacity magazines that will fit into a 2011 Toyota Camry tote bag, but you can’t get a plastic sack for your pork chops. As the kids say, “whatevs.”
So I’m OK with the bag ban, but I do wonder if we aren’t patting ourselves on the back a little more than the occasion calls for.
There are more plastic bags blowing down the road than you would like to see, certainly. But America is not a primary offender in terms of ocean plastic, which is a primary driver of straw-and-bag policy. Ninety percent of it comes from 10 rivers: the Yangtze; Indus; Yellow; Hai He; Ganges; Pearl; Amur; Mekong, Nile and Niger. I don’t see the Saranac on that list. And while I’m all for leading by example, banning bags strikes me as going on a diet because your neighbor is fat.
Maybe the symbolism matters to other nations, but I doubt it. My overall fear is that the bag ban will make us feel as if we really did something when we really didn’t. Banning bags may be beneficial, but it’s not like we can stop looking for another planet to live on because we did so.
As usual though, I have some selfish and insecure motives for feeling this way. There is a gender context to the bag ban that no one mentions, and it does not show men in a positive light. Women always remember to take their reusable bags into the store with them, much in the way they always remember to get the napkins at the sub shop. Guys? Not so much.
I had to wait for a while in a supermarket parking lot recently, and I conducted an unscientific survey. I watched women walk into the store with armloads of reusable totes, whereas the guys walked up empty handed until they got the happy little sandwich sign that reads “Don’t forget your reusable bags!” at which point they would invariably say “godDAMMIT” and stalk back to their vehicles.
Here’s my real problem with the bag ban, though: Stewart’s Shops. I’m not entirely sure I can live without Stewart’s plastic bags. They aren’t plastic bags, really, they’re more like luggage. Big, heavy duty and eminently reusable. I use them for everything from lunch to cat litter and, because I’m not skilled in the kitchen, lunch that tastes like cat litter.
And where is the cat litter supposed to go now, in an NPR tote bag? Please. At a grocery store last weekend they were offering paper bags and charging a nickel a piece for them. I’m OK with that, too. Paper bags make good fire starters, although then you have to think of the environmental damage to the air vis-a-vis the environmental damage of a rogue plastic bag that ends up in the nostril of an apex predator.
I am also old enough to remember the days when plastic bags were first coming into use, and the carbuncular philosophy student who was bagging your groceries would ask, “paper or plastic, sir?” At the time, plastic was the environmentally accepted choice, since its fabrication did not destroy trees. The irony is that if you asked for paper back then, they would look at you as if you’d just thrown a bucket of turpentine into a nest of fledgling eagles.
So here would be my legislative solution: Plastic bags, good ones, should be subjected to World War II style rationing coupons. You get, I don’t know, four bags a month, and they’ll find their way into the trash at some point, it’s true, but you will also be incentivized to use them several times over for dry cleaning, or as bathroom trash can liners or, if you are a Baltimore Orioles fan as I am, to put over your head.
You can take most of my plastic and I won’t care. But you can have my Stewart’s bag when you pry it from my cold dead hands.
Photo of BYO Bag courtesy DEC.