Monday, October 16, 2000

Baggers with attitude

It was bad enough when supermarket checkers started giving us the choice of paper or plastic. I mean, after you spend an hour choosing between 10 or 12 permutations of every simple product, you shouldn’t have to make a choice about what to put them in. And especially not such a thorny choice--kill a tree, or choke a landfill? Whichever one you pick, you will immeditely read somewhere that it was a bad idea. Do I really have to deal with this after wading through 150 types of cereal?

The choice got simpler when my son developed a whole world of pretend play around plastic bags. He enjoys roaming the house with them, putting things inside them, moving the things to another part of the house, emptying the bags and filling them with other things. He pretends to be playing recycling, but nothing ever gets recycled, just rearranged. He hasn’t quite gotten the idea yet that of all the things you put in plastic bags, your head should not be one of them. Nor does he understand that if you tear one of those bags in little pieces and your mother does not pick them all up and your baby cousin swallows one, that will be a bad thing. So safety issues and clutter issues now trump environmental issues, and my answer to “Paper or plastic?” has become a resolute “Paper!”

Which makes it all the more annoying that our supermarket seems to have selected plastic. Oh, they still offer a choice. They still have the stacks of brown paper bags ready to be popped open and filled. But when you ask for paper, you’re likely to get a response somewhere between benign ignoring and outright attitude. Yesterday, we asked for paper. We bagged as many groceries as we could in paper. The checker, as if to race us, started filling plastic bags, whether we wanted them or not. Finally, in the spirit of compromise, she put a paper bag inside a plastic bag and filled that. Two environmental disasters for the price of one!

I don’t understand how she could hear our choice and see our choice and yet insist on using plastic. Maybe those soft little plastic bags, already pulled open on their little wire rack, are easier on the fingernails than those big old clumsy paper numbers. But at least she was quiet about it. Another time, we had a checker actually argue with us. We asked for paper, and she pointed out that it was raining, and the paper bag would get wet, and we really should use plastic. We said no, paper would be fine, and she got huffy. She was just looking out for our best interests, after all. And since she knew what was good for us, she went ahead and bagged our groceries in plastic, though we begged her not to. Is there some sort of “For the customer’s own good” directive among supermarket employees? It made me want to invent some story of hideous plastic allergies at my home just to make her feel bad.

I guess I should be glad to have the decision made for me. But if they’re going to make it, then just get the paper bags the heck out of there. Make it an all-plastic emporium. Admit that you’re getting kickbacks from landfill owners. And dispense with the illusion of choice. While you’re at it, just go down the aisles and pick one of everything, so we don’t have to stand staring at the shelves stunned by so many selections. We’ll be in and out of the store in a minute.

Or maybe we’d stay out entirely. But that would be our choice.

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