Zen and the Art of Grocery Bagging

So many grocery bags, so little time.

Alyssa Martino
June 12, 2008

Hello, and welcome to Make-it-Green Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for an Earth Friendly Life. After a whirlwind of comments about Paper or Plastic I, I decided to do another show on grocery bags. There's quite a lot to be said on the subject, so this week I'm going to elaborate on the whole grocery bagging system, complete with news updates and practical tips for making your grocery shopping bags as green as you can get them.

A Quick Apology

I hope most of you listening realize that your host is a pretty goofy person, and loves to joke around. No laughing matter, however, is a chronic problem in consumerist America that breeds a certain... disrespect of our service professionals. Many of us have become spoiled rotten by the level of service we get at restaurants, retail stores, and other service establishments. We have come to expect quality service, and can easily overlook the thankless task of bagging our groceries. We, the customers at grocery retail centers should not forget that these bag clerks are people, too.

In poking fun at the plastic bag culture in America, I believe I inadvertently implied that all grocery bag clerks are mindless robots who need programming. While certainly some clerks are mindless, we should never ever treat our service professionals with less than human respect and dignity, or use one bad experience as an excuse to offer anything other than a professional attitude to your servers. I apologize to anyone in the honorable service professions who felt slighted by my humor.

The Dying Art of Grocery Bagging

My illustration of a common grocery store experience was to serve as a humorous warning to those of you who will be attempting to transition to reusing your own bags. It's difficult to change a huge machine like a grocery store chain, and many times your efforts will be met with resistance. However, offering respect to your bag clerks, with a polite "Oh, please don't use the plastic bags. I brought my own," and a quick "Thank you" at the end of the transaction will go a long way to easing your grocery store into expecting this behavior, and creating a rapport with your service professionals that seems to have become optional in today's service economy.

Another interesting point that one listener brought up is that perhaps bagging groceries is a dying art, and will soon go the way of "Do you need help out to your car?" Listener Adam from Richmond, California wrote, "...if we shifted to a system much like in Europe where people bag their own groceries, perhaps people would feel the need to bring their own sturdy bag, not to mention reducing food costs at the grocery store." In America, however, bag clerks are an institution, and sometimes change comes slow to institutions. I definitely agree with the sturdiness argument - I've had my fair share of groceries spew across the parking lot. I hadn't considered the cost angle, though. Someone has to pay for those bags and the clerks that attend them, after all.

If you have had chronic problems with your grocery store, don't take it out on your bag clerks. Speak to the manager about your bagging concerns, but maybe at the risk of looking like a crazy hippie. If you want to go incognito, you could fill out a customer comment card, or leave an anonymous note. The more awareness there is of the desire to wean ourselves off of plastic bags, the better.

Ode to the Cloth Bag

So here are even more ideas about where to get your very own beautiful, reuseable bags. Adam from Richmond also wrote in with this question:

Why not buy an old reused tote? For the same reasons why buying post consumer recycled is better than just recycled, why not avoid buying new things altogether?

Most of you probably have your own backpack or tote or gym bag lying around waiting for a good use, and this is great! Why buy something new, when something you already have will do? Ahh, reuse. I love reusing. I think I'll write a song. Reuse it till it dies. Reuse it till it dies, woo woo.

Another idea I got from Grammar Girl was to make your own bag! If you've got a sewing machine, or a friend with a sewing machine--come on, your mom probably has a sewing machine, why don't you call her for once--you can make yourself a spiffy new/old bag. Used t-shirts are a great starting material, and you probably have billions lying around from that 12K you ran, the time you won the office competition, and the time you survived boot camp. Don't waste--reuse!

Since I'm a woman, and buying new things usually makes me happy, I had to buy one of those cute crocheted bags from the natural foods co-op. I think it was even hemp or something. Boy, am I a hippie! Anyway, if you're into crafts, though, getting yourself some hemp rope and knitting/crocheting/knotting/macrame-ing your way to reuseable bag bliss is another great idea. If I could have, I would definitely have knit myself a bag. Unfortunately my knitting skills are right up there with the Govenator's salsa dancing skills.

The last radical idea a listener came up with was to just eschew bags altogether - take the groceries straight from the cart to the trunk of your car. Costco already makes you do this. Why not come prepared? Leave a few of those clever fruit boxes with the holes in them in the trunk for the messy stuff.

Thanks all for your great listener feedback. I welcome your discussions and ideas; healthy debate is a necessary part of any good discussion of environmental topics. Keep it coming!

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You can find a transcript of this episode at quickanddirtytips.com. While you're there, don't forget to check out all the fantastic Quick and Dirty Tips podcasts like Legal Lad and Grammar Girl. In fact, if you're a fan of Grammar Girl, you can get Mignon Fogarty's new book, Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing on July 8th; reserve a copy today or pre-order at your favorite online retailer. Send me more of those fabulous questions and comments to greengirl@quickanddirtytips.com, or leave me a voicemail at 206-600-3051.