City Room at the NY Times today brings up a recent proposal to require supermarkets in the city to recycle plastic bags. After living in Milan for six months, I don’t really understand the resistance to reusing plastic bags that we’ve got here in the US. Over there, you had to buy your shopping bags (at 10 eurocents a bag) if you wanted new plastic bags. Most people either brought used bags back to the store and reused them or had canvas or other types of more durable bags. Since I reused my bags as garbage bags (they were the perfect size for my kitchen garbage can, and it made more sense than buying additional plastic garbage bags), I would often spring for new ones, but I was one of the few.
But, since I’ve been home, I’ve converted myself – I have switched to nylon shopping bags. I like them, because the little carrying pouches they come in mean that they fold up tiny and I can keep them in my purse/messenger bag at all times, reducing the need to get plastic bags when I decide at the last minute to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work. Since I still use plastic shopping bags as garbage bags in my bathroom and under my desk, I still have to get some once in a while, but I find that need is overwhelmingly taken care of during the few trips where I either forget my nylon bags even though they’re easy to carry (usually after I’ve gone shopping, I forget to put them back in my purse right away) or I buy too much stuff and I need a third shopping bag. I also got one of those little plastic bag holders for under my sink, so that I know when I’m running out of the plastic – this had less to do with recycling, than the discovery that I was accumulating plastic bags faster than I was using them, and they were taking over all of my under-counter space.
Other things I learned how to do in Italy? bag my own groceries. Of course, here the checkout lanes aren’t really designed to allow me to do this, so I have to sit and watch while my food gets bagged, and then take my stuff, move to the nearest flat surface, and rearrange everything (somehow the idea of equal weight distribution for balance (since i have to walk about six blocks home from the store) utterly escapes the checkout person’s mind - please don’t put the milk, tomato sauce and canned goods in one bag while leaving the other one for nothing but a box of pasta).
Back to plastic bags – I think a proposal to charge people for bags would be ideal. Something small, like 10 cents, is low enough to not be a burden, but serves as a gentle reminder to maybe get something more permanent.