Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Perspective

Bring your own bag — or why men don't

Creationism or Darwinism, either way the original marital dispute was about groceries.

Eve says to Adam, "Eat it, you need more fruit in your diet." Or homo erectus lurches out of the cave 1.8 million years ago until his female companion pads to the cave opening to yell after him, "Ook ook."

Which, of course, translates as, "Don't forget the bags."

Men don't like the reusable bags. It could be because Judas Iscariot is said to have worn a purse or that Freud had all kinds of smutty interpretations of women's handbags, either way my husband isn't going anywhere near a "murse." Nor, by extension, the dozens of reusable grocery bags I've placed within arm's reach of his car door.

It's biology. The hunters went out, killed something big and dragged it back. The gatherers, on the other hand, had to do a little advance planning with receptacles. Nuts and berries needed to be corralled. It doesn't help that eventually those nuts and berries became lip gloss, Altoids and dry cleaning receipts.

But we still need to gather the nuts, especially the bulk almonds because they are a mondo superfood.

My husband's preferred style: Return from the grocery store with fistfuls of plastic bags that, when wadded up and stuffed into one bag, equals a giant beach ball of shame, only worse, because it's a giant beach ball filled with other beach balls, each of which will clog landfill for at least a quadrillion years.

When I've explained this, I've gotten my husband's patented middle-distance stare, which signals extreme not-listening.

Grocery stores and municipalities around the country have debated whether to use the carrot or the stick about the bags: Some prohibit single-use plastic bags entirely, some attach a fee to such bags and some give you a little something back for bringing your own from home.

While I can imagine using the carrot or the stick — definitely the stick — with my husband, hard data seem to work best. So I ran some numbers in hopes of making him feel bad, maybe even showing him that he's part of the problem.

Turns out, less than 10 percent of plastic bags get recycled. If added to other plastics in a curbside bin, they tend to jam sorting machines so facilities often reject them. And because they are often contaminated with food or pet waste, most of the world's estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are incinerated or shipped to landfill. Plus, these things are so aerodynamic they tend to get lifted up on the wind and enter our marine environment, choking wildlife. (You can, of course, bring them back to the bin outside the grocer.)

Maybe I should get him at least to switch to paper, the bags that dominated in the 1970s before every bagger murmured "paperorplastic?" Trees are a renewable resource, so maybe paper bags aren't so bad. Nope, they're bad, too. One thousand paper bags weigh 140 pounds, one thousand plastic bags a mere 15 pounds. Thus, much bigger carbon footprint and more greenhouse gas emissions (some studies say 80 percent more than plastic).

Anyway, there may not be a huge difference between nonrecycled paper or plastic bags in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties where the vast majority of curbside trash is incinerated, producing electricity and ash (a quantity about 25 percent of the original volume of trash). A smaller trash volume equals less ash, but that ash serves a function, utilized as cover for the landfill stuff that can't be burned.

It's with recyclables where a greater volume and weight begin to matter. In both counties, the recycling contract holders take the recyclables to centralized transfer stations, then to sorting facilities and then it goes on to the highest bidder. More volume means more transportation costs. And recycling paper bags requires that they get repulped, which entails a raft of chemicals to bleach and disperse fibers. Most recycled paper bags live new lives as corrugated cardboard, not more bags.

So we're back to persuading the husband to tote those reusable bags. Unfortunately, they have a larger carbon footprint than either paper or plastic (the energy required to make one is the same as making about 28 traditional plastic bags). So, reusable bags are only superior to plastic or paper if you reuse them. A lot.

Okay, how to incentivize the spouse? First, reusable bags can't be girly, nor emblazoned with the name of one grocery store if he's heading to a different one (he's sensitive). There should be sports themes or camo print, made of Under Armour or with a big Nike swoosh. A bag should be so small and collapsible that it might attach to a key chain or a belt buckle, but strong enough to carry a six-pack of Guinness cans with the floating widget. The grocery list could be written on the side in erasable ink and a rearview mirror air-freshener (bacon scented?) could flash LED lights when the car door opens and the bags have been left in the trunk.

Far-fetched? Maybe. But until there's legislation, I know what I'm going to be left holding.

Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

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