Two years ago my household made the commitment to avoid plastic shopping bags whenever possible in favor of reusable shopping bags. For the most part I would say it has been the second-least painless environmental change in our household (the easiest being switching to CFLs). The most common problem is when you forget your reusable bag and have to hand-carry items or submit to a plastic bag. Not really a big deal.
There are a lot of good reasons to avoid plastic shopping bags, which I outline in further detail here. But the main points are that plastic bags are a petroleum product, so it effectively takes available gasoline out of your tanks; they don’t biodegrade – ever; they kill wildlife (especially sea creatures) that get caught in them or eat them and choke and die; and on and on.
So here’s my new rant on this issue: What the hell is the problem with cashiers who are clueless about the reusable bags?!
For all the feel-good marketing campaigns many national chain stores are making, most of the cashiers (at least in Las Vegas) are absolutely clueless with reusable bags! It has gotten to the point where I get tense just thinking about a check-out line!
Here are some examples:
- Last night I went grocery shopping (at a major national chain). As usual, I put my shopping bags first, then my items (for easier bagging for the clerk). He picked up the bags. Looked at them. Set them down. Then proceeded to start bagging my items in a plastic bag!
- The time before that when I went to a different grocery store (also major national chain), the clerk picked up the bags. I said, “Please use my bags to bag up the groceries. Thanks.” She said, “Ok” with a smile. She handed the bags to the bagger WHO THEN PUT THE BAGS INTO A PLASTIC BAG AND STARTED BAGGING WITH PLASTIC BAGS! When I noticed this and stopped her use of plastic bags, I asked her why she put my reusable bags in a plastic bag. She said she thought I was buying them. I then asked, “Even if I was buying them today, wouldn’t it still mean I want to use them? After all, why else would I buy them?” No response.
- The time before that I went to a chain pharmacy. I asked them to bag in my reusable tote. The clerk said she would and even commented that it is good I use my own bag. While I waited for my medicine I noticed a large sticker ON THE COUNTER that said the store encourages people to use reusable shopping bags. What happened when my order was ready? She started to put it in a plastic shopping bag RIGHT ON TOP OF THE STICKER!
I could list dozens more examples of these scenarios! Of course, in each of these instances I had to stop the plastic bagging and reiterate that I wanted my items put in my reusable tote … that I had already given them … that we had already talked about and had been acknowledged! WHAT. THE. FUCK?!
The worst part is that not only do I end up having these same error-ridden conversations over and over again, but it also leads to more problems. Last night the clerk forgot to give me my $20 change. The time before that, I ended up at home without some of my groceries because the bagger had absent-mindedly put some that were in plastic bags in another cart. So the situation just breeds more incompetence on the part of the clerks helping me!
Now, I understand that the nature of a cashier’s job is a lot of repetition. And habits are hard to break. I totally get that. But OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN I am having these problems at stores that ADVERTISE AND SELL their own reusable bags! GET WITH THE #@$%&#@$ PROGRAM!!
And what is even more irritating to me is that I know it is not like this everywhere. When I go to Portland or San Diego or even Anchorage, Alaska, for the most part cashiers do not go into seizures when I give them my bags. Sometimes there is a small explanatory conversation, but most people get it.
Before I finish this rant, I want to also point out another frustrating thing that happens. If ignoring the reusable bag is the most frequent problem, the second most frequent is when I ask the cashier to use my bag and s/he obviously finds the situation uncomfortable. What happens next is that all my stuff gets rung-up and then s/he just leaves it laying there — not knowing how to use the reusable shopping bag! My bags are not tricky. THEY ARE BAGS! I can actually see the person thinking: Don’t put items in a plastic bag? I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do! So I then have to reach over and put all the items in the bag for them. It’s like I’m showing a 3-year-old how to use a bag! See, you hold up the bag like this … then you pick up an item and put it inside. Neat!
And all this doesn’t even take into account that in Las Vegas, 9 times out of 10, a store that advertises giving you credit for bringing in your own bags doesn’t even do it. (Usually 5 cents a bag.) I’ve given up asking for it. It has sent too many clerks into a sweaty panic trying to figure out what code to punch in. Screw it. Keep your 5 cents.
Through all this I still use my shopping bags. I’m determined that all these little indignities and feats of incompetence aren’t going to force me to abandon my environmentally friendly goal. But honestly, who would have thought that something as small as a shopping bag would create such confusion?
How does the saying go? The customer is always right. And in this case, I really am right. So get with it people!