Years ago when I lived in Germany for a short time, most people used their own canvass bags when grocery shopping. Initially I attributed that to the European environmental consciousness, which is probably somewhat correct. But then I found out that grocery stores charged for their bags and most people probably didn't want to pay for them. I believe the system is still the same over there and it works well.
In the US stores, grocery bags are an expected perk. Sure, we all pay for it in the form of tiny margins added to the cost of other items, but that is lost on the consumers. Grocery bags are abundant and free. At home we use these bags as trash can liners but when I go to my local grocery store's salad bar for lunch, the cashier would place the container in a plastic bag and I would promptly toss it in the trash at my desk. For years I felt guilty about this practice, but I wasn't about to change that habit.
Then a couple of months ago as I was leaving the store I noticed the long rows of the checkout lines filled with the yellow plastic bags. The sight and sound of hundreds of these bags crinkling and rustling as they were being filled made me consider the amount of waste that was being generated. This was just one moment in time, in one store, in one town. I was overwhelmed by the thought of millions of these bags being dumped in landfills everyday and right then I vowed to change my bagging habit. I wasn't quite ready for canvass bags, but I decided to save the plastic bags and reuse them every time I go to the store, until the bags become unusable.
It took a few false starts, but I finally made good on the promise. In the past couple of months that I have been reusing the bags, I have become quite accustomed to recycling them at the checkout counters. By now I have probably prevented 40 or so bags from going to the landfills and I feel pretty good about it. It wasn't difficult, nor was it inconvenient. It was just making a slight adjustment to correct this wasteful habit. Yet I wondered how many bags can be recycled if everyone shook the old habit.
Today I saw a glimmer of hope to that end. When I presented the clerk with my bag, she credited me with two cents off the total. When I inquired about the credit, she showed me a stamp imprinted on the bag indicating a 2-cent credit for re-use. The grocery store, ShopRite, is obviously trying to portray itself as an environmentally conscious company and I applaud them for that. Whatever their motivation (probably a mixture of business sense and green ambitions), this could set the stage for saving millions of bags from being wasted so needlessly. Other stores have also begun with their own similar initiatives to show their green sides. They just need to promote this a little. Grocery store bags could be going the same way as the beverage bottles and cans went years ago, and that's a good thing.