No, plastic isn’t okay.


I don’t know if this is something I’ve ranted about before or not. If it is, I’m going to re-rant about it anyway, because it still pisses me off.

It all started on April 23, sometime in the early 90s. The night before, a prime time network aired an Earth Day special featuring loads of famous people. The show really wasn’t very good, but it served its purpose very well: millions of Americans who didn’t previously know what Earth Day was, were very well informed on the damage they were doing to the environment and what they should be doing to improve it. Suddenly, everyone hailed from the Pacific Northwest. Waste was bad. Recycling was good. Water and electricity were no longer endless and free resources. Exhaust emissions were measured and regulated. And grocery cashiers and bag boys across the land repeated the holy mantra: “Would you like paper or plastic?”

As fads do, however, the novelty of that kitschy environment thing wore off. Several years later, bag boys apparently conglomerated for their yearly convention, and the bag boy union declared they earned the right to simply ask, “Is plastic okay?” It was a strategic political maneuver that struck Americans in their most vitally vulnerable place – their ceaseless and tireless ability to not give a shit. In a few more years, plastic wasn’t an option, and requesting otherwise was comparable to asking a bank teller to break your Ben Franklin into three proportional weights of quarters, nickels and wheat pennies.

Case in point: I just went to the grocery store. Typically, I can run through with a hand basket, grab what I need and express check out. Such is the benefit of living alone. In this case, if throwing my ten items into plastic bags is going to make the cashier’s job easier while there are a dozen people behind me in line, then give me plastic. I’ll live with the seven plastic bags. However, I needed to get groceries a week ago. It didn’t happen, and now I’m cleaned out. It’s shopping cart time, and when I get to the register, this is what goes through my head:
• The person bagging my groceries will average 2 items per plastic bag.
• I’ll take home enough plastic bags to suffocate a Calcutta orphanage with enough plastic left over to tent my house.

So, the inbred wearing the apron is looking at my groceries and doesn’t even notice I’m standing there until I say, “Can I have paper please?” This is where the fun begins. First, he has to lean on both hands on the counter. Then the lips purse, like when Dick Van Patten would get pissed at one of his eight alleged offspring. Then the eyes roll. Then the deep sigh. Then he looks at the paper. This really is a lovely performance, but I beat 17 years of Catholicism. He’s not getting a shred of guilt out of me, and he realizes this as I stare him down because, well, the groceries won’t bag themselves.

Now, he’s going to do out of spite exactly what I think he should be doing for his job. He’s going to cram as much as he can into as few bags as possible. What he’s fuming about is that this is going to take three times as long as it would with plastic. The sad thing is it’ll take so long because he has to think about what he’s bagging. Why this is such a laborious art, I don’t know. Bottles first with cans and other indestructibles in one bag. Produce first with chips and bread in another. Cans and jars in the third. Hand me the fucking French bread, because it’s already in a bag. This isn’t a science. Back in the day before we had plastic bags, this was de rigueur, and it didn’t take so long.

When all is said and done, I conveniently go home with three tightly packed double-paper bags, and as a bonus, I don’t lose the circulation in my fingers when I take my groceries into the house.

I’m sure there are plastic bag enthusiasts who will say the following:
“But spprs, plastic bags are actually better for the environment than paper bags.”
I think – and I could be wrong – that three double-paper bags that sit in my pantry waiting to serve another use will behoove the environment better than 20 plastic bags that are going straight to the dump. And speaking of the environment, when’s the last time you saw a paper bag floating around in the street or for that matter in my front yard?

“But you could reuse those plastic bags, too.”
No I couldn’t. I’m sure I could get the latest editions of 101 Uses for Plastic Bags, Decorative Holiday Crafts for Plastic Bags, and More Plastic Bag Ideas than You Can Stuff into a Dead Goat, but I don’t have that kind of time. Sure, I used to save plastic bags. Then I had to move out because I couldn’t find my kitchen anymore. I can get more stuff into and more reuse out of a paper bag.

“But you can take those plastic bags back to the store for recycling.”
First, recycling in this country is a bad joke. Aluminum excepted, recycling produces more cost and waste than it cures. Get pissed at me all you want, but you and I both know that you haven’t looked this up. Rationalizations for recycling are based on bad governmental prediction, political correctness and urban legend. That notwithstanding, I’m still not making a trip to the store for plastic bags. I’m not storing them in my car, either. I loved American Beauty too, but I don’t need to reenact 30 simultaneous plastic bag ballets in the back seat of my car for the next week until I make it back to the store, only to forget the fucking things until I get back to the house.

“But paper blah blah deforestation blah–”
There’s enough cheap plastic shit in the world as it is. My paper bags were made from farmed trees and (funnily enough) a little bit of recycled paper. If you really give a shit, scream at the agriculture lobbyists to cultivate marijuana farms. In the meantime, I still hate plastic bags and I’m not going to take them anyway to avoid lip from some lazy slack-jawed fuckwit bag boy.

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