Tote Bag Repentance

Tote Bag Repentance February 7, 2008

I’m continuing to consider the theme of “do no harm” during this Lenten season. So many resolutions to “do no harm” have really awful unintended consequences that I’ve finding this a particularly prickly path. However, I, along with a lot of others, may be on to something that really “does no harm” and does much good.

There are two items ubiquitous to modern American life that are coming under increasing scrutiny as really nasty for the environment: plastic water bottles and plastic shopping bags—the kinds we get at grocery stores, convenience stores and just about every other place where we purchase routine items.

Of course, most people know now that this bottled water phase has been one of the bigger hoaxes foisted on the American public. Bottled water is at best no more pure than tap water, and sometimes less pure. And tons more expensive. Nonetheless, those bottles are convenient when needing a drink of water away from home and to keep in the car—so just buy one bottle periodically and keep it refilled. That will solve a lot of that ecological mess.

Now, for plastic bags: Personally, I try to keep them and reuse them as much as possible, but there really is no way to re-use all of them. Even with a small household, I can easily get up to 10 or more of these a week. I can’t imagine how many bags a house with a lot of children and many groceries to buy might accumulate in just a few weeks. Certainly, they can be recycled, and that’s a good idea. But, having my conscience pricked by reading too many “green” magazines, I decided I’d try the permanent tote bag routine.

I know that in many parts of the world, people routinely carry around with them either string bags or tote bags of some sort in which to place last minute purchases. It’s time for us to copy that habit and start carrying our own. I’ve been doing this for two weeks now. I’m still not in the habit—I tend to empty the bags and then forget to return them to the car. And the grocery checkers have also got to change their habits and learn to use them when they are presented to them. But I have started.

There are several questions I’ve yet answered. Here’s the first: I purchased a couple of inexpensive ones at a grocery store and those bags, roomy, with flat bottoms, are emblazed with the name of that particular store. Now, what do I do if I want to shop at a different store but have only the bags emblazed with the name of a competitor? Does this mean I need to purchase different tote bags for each store where I shop? Do I need to keep a collection of bags in my car to use at different places? Am I going to hurt someone’s feelings if I use the wrong tote bag at a particular store?

Also, what does it say about me if I insist on using “cheap” totebags instead of designer ones? According to one fashion maven, “No other fashion accessory matches a woman’s need better than a beautiful designer tote bag. When your suitcase is too large or your purse is too small, a designer tote bag always makes the right choice.” Oh dear—what if I’ve made the wrong choice? What if I’m too cheap to buy the “right” bag (actually, this is not a “what if I’m too cheap” it is a “I’m very much too cheap!”).

Oh well, enough of the unanswerable questions, and back to the subject at hand. I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we see if the Krum community can become a “plastic bag-free” town? This could be a fun challenge for us as a community. Think about it: Let’s suppose for a moment that the average person gets five of those bags a week (and that’s got to be a low guess). With around 4000 people in the nearby community, that number balloons to 80,000 plastic bags a month! Eighty thousand bags that wouldn’t go to landfills or fly along the highway or get caught in trees or bushes. Did you know these bags never decompose? They eventually break down in the smaller and smaller parts, but they end up being ingested and ultimately becoming part of the food cycle. Definitely not healthy for any living creature.

This could make not only a great Lenten discipline but a new and healthy habit for the rest of our lives. Caring for God’s creation can only bring pleasure to the Creator, and that sounds good to me.

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