August 14, 2011

Seven Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (when you forget your own reusables)

What happens when I forget or for some reason don't have my own reusable bags in the checkout? In the old days, say six months ago, I would come home with multiple disposable versions given to me by the clerk. 

The Problem: Absent-Mindedness
Frequently I would realize as the groceries or clothes were being bagged, that I had forgotten my own bag, and think "Damn it! Next time," and "what is wrong with me, why is it so hard to remember a bag?" Of course, all that's wrong is that I haven't developed the habit of remembering or incorporating the mindfulness of bags well enough. With me and many others, it's a process that takes time; quite a long time if you never make it a priority.

Usually, I'd want to stop the clerk, but s/he'd be practically finished bagging before I even had the thought, and out of some misplaced politeness, I didn't want to insult her by undoing her labor. Back then, if I remembered quickly enough, I would ask the clerk not to bag if I didn't have many items, or just to bag the essentials (such as multiple smaller items, so my hands would be available to carry the bigger items sans bags). Much of the time I had my own bags waiting in the trunk of my car. So there were a number of times I actually left my purchases on the conveyor belt and ran out to my automobile to get them, but that often backfired as you can imagine, losing my place in line. I always thought I'd be super speedy and sometimes was, but other times, the clerk was faster. And I tired of that strategy.

And unbelievably, about a third of the time that I had forgotten my shopping bags, I actually had one *right* in my purse that I kept for just such occasions. Unfortunately, I used it so infrequently that I almost never remembered it was there, even moving around it in a pocket when looking for my wallet or keys, because the neatly folded and zipped bag had become a part of the purse and no longer an object within it, somehow. I know. Some of you can not understand or imagine such mindlessness. Neither can I at times.

The Solution: A Rule
Finally, I made a rule. Since I always remembered that I'd forgotten my bags at some point during the checkout process, and though that wasn't really good enough, it was enough to effect small--shall we call it, starter change. I incorporated some of my old tactics and thought of some new ones, and made a rule to apply one of the these every time. Here are seven alternatives to outright giving in to having a half-dozen double-bagged disposables being handed to you at the checkout.

7 Alternatives to Accepting Plastic Bags (use in conjunction where possible)
   1 - Leave. If I remember before entering store, I may leave if I need to do a big shopping; or*
   2 - No Bag. If I need just a few items that can be carried, I'll request no bag; &/or
   3 - Skip some items. I may for-go all but a few items that can fit into my handbag; or
   4 - Unbag. If bagging has begun, interrupt & ask for un-bagging, overcoming politeness; and
   5 - Put some back. If in line with too many items to unbag, step out of line & put some back; or
   6 - Use a cart as a carrier. Request to use the trolley or hand basket & just unpack it at car, or
   7 - Do a Runner. last resort: run out to car & grab the often waiting reusables from trunk, even
        if it means waiting in line again.

*I have at times considered leaving stores and returning, but there's the issue not only my time, but added energy consumption/pollution, as I usually drive to do my shopping (an issue to be tackled in its own post some time in the future). So if I leave a store, I generally don't leave with the intent of returning immediately, but rather of waiting until I can make the trip more cost-effective (in other words, when I need to make a run in that direction for additional purposes). Obviously, if certain items are urgent, then I will do the shopping at that time that is essential and carry those items.

And it's working! I mean, I still forget my own bags at times. But I remember a lot more often. And for now, while I'm cultivating the habit of remembering, I can deal with forgetting on occasion as long as I have fail safe measures to rely on.

So Jay, I forget, too, probably more often than you. Thanks for the comment that created the idea to make this post. Hopefully, it will help some other newbies one day.

postscript. (to be removed once the issue is resolved.) 
To those of you who have written comments on any MWL posts, I apologize that I am still unfamiliar with blogger and seem to have difficulty with my responses reaching the commenters. Or perhaps that's a setting option for the commenters. I apologize in any case, because I simply don't know. I see these wonderful comments and would love to partake in a dialogue, but alas have difficulty doing so. If you know the answer, please shoot me an email at


  1. Well said! i think #6 would have been the answer -oh and I also DID kinda have a "bag" I could have used. Sheesh!
    Sigh... I was just so frazzled in all the chaos, and had two family members with me. NO excuses. There's something to guilt, though, and I suspect I'll not repeat.
    Thanks, and really great ideas. Helps to "hear" it from others: something practical, easy to implement. Now I, and others, have an articulated POA (plan of action).

  2. It sounds like you've worked out a good system! I used to forget my reusables all the time, too -- and I think a lot of people who have good intentions do the same. I finally went with the in-purse bag option. Mine are bright little EnviroSax from the Sierra Club. While I'm shopping, I put my groceries in the bags as I go. (Confession: Kevin usually carries them or at least gets the heavier items.) It immediately becomes obvious if I've forgotten to bring bags. At the checkout, we unpack everything to pay, and then pack it all in again.

    Unfortunately, I'm less good about remembering to bring bags or containers for the bulk bins and for produce. I go bagless when I can, try to plan ahead when I know I need bulk bin items, and -- yep, occasionally take a plastic bag when I have to.

  3. I've gotten much better about remembering the bags over the years, but I sometimes still underestimate the number I'll need - like when you're running to the store for eggs and come home with $100 worth of groceries (never shop when hungry). But I digress...

    Anyhow, here are my strategies:

    1) Have WAY more bags than you need for one trip. I keep some in the car, some in my bike baskets, and some by the back door near my keys and jackets. That way it makes it pretty hard to forget them all together.

    2) Instead of a regular purse, I have a nice canvas shopping bag that has several pockets. One pocket is for all of my purse-like stuff, one is for all of the reusable produce and bulk bags, and the big section is kept empty for "just in case" situations.

    3) If I end up without enough bags, or forgetting altogether, I sometimes make it an excuse to buy a new one. I find it really helpful to have a collection of different kinds for different situations, so I pretty much consider these to be investments rather than wasted money.

    4) It's taken years, but I think I've finally made it a habit to bring the bags. It's sort of like making sure I have my keys and purse... they're just part of what I take with me whenever I leave the house. It helps that I generally head out with the specific intent of shopping rather than just doing it on the way home from other activities.

    BTW - I don't think that Blogger has the option to send an email back to commenters when you reply to their comments... or at least if it does I don't have any clue how it's done. Blogger sends the blog owner an email any time a comment is made, but I don't think it will send an email to the folks who comment. Wordpress has an option that lets people subscribe to a specific post so they'll receive an email notification of any comments made to that post, but I don't know of a similar feature in Blogger. I generally just make a habit of re-visiting posts that I've commented on to see if anybody has replied to my comments. If anybody out there knows something I don't I'd love to hear about it.

  4. I love that Jay inspired you to do this post! Wow life is so interesting the way it pushes us in new directions!

  5. Thanks for letting me know how you do it ECL, and a big thanks, too, for your advice on blogger. What you said is the consensus that I've heard, so that's good. I'll just accept that I can't get back to folks; that they will have to get back to the original page if they choose.

    Thanks again.