I have a habit of storing plastic bags, and, when I go to the supermarket to do my shopping, taking them along with me. This is to prevent myself receiving fifty gazillion more each and every time I shop which will carry my groceries for perhaps ten minutes between the store and my house and then go into a landfill somewhere to do their bit to clog up the biosphere for ten million years (do plastic bags ever break down?). This way, the idea goes, I will be doing my bit to save the environment and put a tiny finger in the very leaky dam that stands in the way of the flood of thousands and millions and trillions of plastic bags leaving supermarkets every day. Every day. Think of it. Think of how many they give you, then multiply that by how many people shop at your supermarket, and contemplate the staggering amount of plastic bag wastage that goes on at one supermarket alone. Then multiply that by all the stores in the world and, well—it's frightening.
I severely miss the supermarket I shopped at in Toronto, which charged you 5 cents per plastic bag. The bags were capacious and sturdy and if you had forgotten to bring some of your own, it was worthwhile buying a few because they could be stored up at home for the next trip or used as dandy garbage bags. Failing that, there was a helpful stash of empty cardboard boxes that produce and the like came in to be had for the taking, if you were driving or had the African habit of carrying things on your head. This served very nicely to keep to an absolute minimum the number of plastic bags leaving the store, and to encourage everyone to bring their own and to stuff them as fully as possible. It was a brilliant system. And since most of the people who shopped there were recent immigrants from India, Africa, the Middle East, China and the Caribbean, who knew about economy and whose cash flow was generally not overwhelming, people followed it scrupulously.
But, sadly, there is no supermarket like it, that I know of, in this area.
And so, at the checkout registers of the supermarkets, plastic bags flow as freely as water. Buying a pack of gum? Put it in a plastic bag. Bread? Has to go by itself in another plastic bag. Cans? Three of 'em will be put into a double-bagger. By the time it's over, fifty dollars' worth of groceries has procured you fifty bags to boot.
Most people are quite happy with this system. They stroll with their trollies stuffed full of bags to the car and take them home where presumably they keep some of them for cat litter and garbage bags and, I don't know, throw out the rest? I can't imagine one household creating a demand for that many plastic bags in one week, ever.
Cashiers and bag boys like giving you plastic bags. It is what they are used to. Your purchases can be swiftly and easily deposited into bags using the neat little hanging system they have by their counter and hoisted into your trolley for takeaway. They know by heart what things should go into what bags and how many things to put in each bag and what to double-bag and what needs to go by itself. They like their little system. It is safe, predictable, easy, quick, and they can do it without thinking. I don't blame them. It's their job.
And then along come I to put a monkey wrench into the works.
Because I politely request that they use the plastic bags that I've brought. Or if it's just one or two items I just say, "I don't need a bag, thanks." Most of the time they are in the midst of swift and automatic movement to deposit my purchases into a bag. And they have to stop, and re-calculate. And look at me as if either I've grown three heads and announced that I'll be commuting home in my spaceship, or as if they've had to take their brains out of park to deal with me and they are not very happy with the disruption to their routine.
Most of the time, they will politely comply. However, this is with varying degrees of success. Often, the bag boys don't realize that the giant canvas bag I carry my bags in is actually a BAG, and thus capable of stowing groceries in. So once I had a kind but befuddled bag boy give me new plastic bags in lieu of using the canvas one, which he folded neatly and returned to me. Once I told a cashier I didn't need the bag she'd put my purchase in, only for her to turn around and throw it out (I suppose it was unusable after holding a fleece jacket for all of three seconds).
Last time I went shopping, the cashier, who hadn't heard my request, swiftly stuffed the few remaining items the bag boy hadn't yet gotten to into three new plastic bags. Then, the bag boy, now having two of my original bags left over, kindly put them into ANOTHER plastic bag for me to take home! I was staggered. I don't know what kept me from saying anything because it lurched forward out of my protesting brain and then somehow got stopped at my tongue. I suppose it's fear of making a public scene, or being perceived as peculiar and idiosyncratic, or of annoying someone who is doing you a service by requesting them to do it in the manner you actually desire. Whatever it was, I didn't say anything, but I carefully and vengefully left those three or four extra bags in the trolley when I returned it. I don't know what happened to them. Probably they just got thrown out. But at least it wasn't me who did it.