Whenever I hear about the makeup of landfills in the US (for example in this book discussed in class), or when I read pieces about how to reduce your footprint or the 10 things you can do to make a difference plastic bags seem to find their way into the conversation. I guess they really are pesky and persistent nuisances, in more than one regard. While I don’t see the connection to stopping global climate change directly it makes sense that using less of these bags could eventually reduce the number that end up somewhere later. The most common substitute, and one that is in my face more all the time, is using a more substantial (cloth, read hemp) bag for your groceries. Your own personal, dedicated, and somewhat more permanent grocery bags.

On a recent trip to Ikea (the haven of socially responsible hyper consumerism, if there is such a thing) we were asked, at the self checkout, how many bags we had used in completing our purchase. Not thinking we responded with none. On the way out we also decided to pick up a food item to take to a party. Again we were asked if we wanted a bag and this time I had to inquire as to why they would need to know. It turned out that it’s all a new policy that aims to reduce consumers use (or overuse) of plastic bags. Each bag requested or required by Ikea shoppers will carry with it a $0.05 charge.

I like Ikea’s approach to all of this. Leave it up to the consumer to make the change. Maybe people will come here and think about plastic bags and then leave here and make more informed decisions about plastic bags later. The economics of it is simple enough and I, as a consumer, could immediately see how my decision was affected. For us it worked like a charm. We left the store juggling our goods through the parking lot.

After the trip to Ikea, I found out that California had already taken steps making this environmentally-friendly, if not trendy, practice into mandate (no surprise here). San Francisco was the first to take action (again, no surprise). I can’t say I’m against all these actions, just think of all the other hazards these bags present. Surely from a public health standpoint (independent of environmental quality) less plastic bags lying around is a good thing. Especially lying around a baby alone on a bed.
If all the plastic bags disappear we may be losing more than a simple and wasteful method of carrying things and picking up dog poop. We might just be taking away a mundane object that, when its path crosses a gust of wind, can make us realize how much beauty there is in the world. But at least if we got rid of new plastic bags today, we’d still have the ones we have right now for the next 200 years or so. Thanks, Ricky.

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