Monday, March 24, 2014

How I Refuse Plastic Bags

When the idea for this post first occurred to me, I thought it was silly and trivial.  But it has taken me years to perfect the skill of getting out of a store without a plastic bag!

So many cashiers want to be generous and helpful when they insist I take a plastic bag, so I want to be nice in return.  And very, very firm.  

Consequently, I decided to write this post to share the actual lines I use when I refuse plastic bags.

Look, I'm not morally opposed to plastic.  There are useful plastic items in my home.  But I am opposed to the thoughtless use of plastic when there are easy ways to avoid it.  Plastic is petroleum-based.  It doesn't biodegrade.  It gives off harmful chemicals. 

My normal approach when I'm shopping is to say hi to the cashier and as soon as he/she touches the item I'm buying, I say clearly, "I don't need a bag." Clear diction is important because I'm introducing a new idea into the standard shopper/cashier interaction. Most of the time, this line works, especially if I am obviously holding a cloth bag.

However. . .

1.  To the market standholder looking at my cloth bag of lettuce dripping water:

"It's just water - it'll dry. I really don't want a plastic bag, thank you."

2.  To the cashier who is bagging my groceries in my cloth bags and wants to put my dish soap in a separate plastic bag:

"I really don't want a plastic bag.  It won't leak.  If it does, I'll take the blame.  Thank you for taking such care with my groceries."

3.  To the cashier without a bagger:

"I brought my own bags - I'm happy to do the bagging."

4.  To the cashier who starts to explain all the ways he/she reuses the plastic bags at home so that I will understand the golden opportunity I am refusing:

"I have way more plastic bags at home than I can use.  I'm overflowing with plastic bags."

If the cashier keeps going, I will extend myself and say,

"I'm trying to cut down on the amount of plastic I use."

5. To the thrift store cashier who looks nervously at the pile of purchases I want to carry in my arms:

"I've got a bag in the car."

6. To the cashier who absentmindedly put my items in a plastic bag already,

"I really don't want a bag.  Will you be able to use this one again? [as I remove my items from the bag and push the bag back towards the cashier] 

If the cashier seems to be scooting the (barely used!) bag towards a trash can, I will scoop it up and say,
"I'm sorry - I didn't realize you were going to throw it away; I'll take it home and use it."

I'll leave you with this anecdote:  my husband bought a pair of shoes at the mall recently.  I was standing nearby as he paid for them.  I was keeping the puppies (children) under control.  My husband clearly told the cashier he didn't need a bag - it was one shoe box and we knew we were walking the puppies directly out to the car and going home.

At the very end of the transaction, just as he was about to hand the shoe box to my husband, the cashier suddenly threw the box in a store bag, muttering "just in case."  We were dumbfounded.  We collected the bag in silence and walked away.

Then we began to giggle and invent the scenarios to go with "just in case" the whole way out to the car.  Probably there was a bug in the box - the bag could keep it in.  Probably the roof would fall in.  Maybe the cashier earned commission on the bags he issued.  Or maybe he was just using the bag instead of a "paid" sticker and was worried that we would lose our receipt between the cash register and the door.

There are rare occasions when it's just easier to take the bag - I'm really not a preacher or a perfectionist.

Do you have more stock answers (or pet peeves) to add to the bag issue?


  1. Where I shop (Stop & Shop), the cashiers have lately been asking if we've brought any reusable bags with us. Seems like your store is behind the times! Too bad. Not like it's a new issue.

    The sad truth is that we need the bags for the cat poop - don't know what else to do with it. At the library also, we are glad to use them for our patrons' book on rainy days.

  2. Lisa said what I was thinking, in both cases.

    Many of our stores ask if we want a bag, and for awhile some stores were even charging for each bag, until that decision was overturned by shopper outrage :)

    We re-use them for kitty poo also (rescue cats). I wrote a whole lot about how and why and on and on and then deleted it because it just seemed gross. One sentence is enough :)

    Ben is absolutely hilarious in that picture!

  3. Some cashiers are determined, aren't they?
    We have several shops where checkout staff are supposed to wait to be asked for a bag, or at least not have them out on offer, but I think it's less hassle for the shop assistants to assume everybody will want one, so that doesn't work very well. There will be a bag tax here in a year or so's time, which may help.

    I say similar things to you, but mostly have to repeat, "No really, I don't want a bag, I have one here, see?" as they are never quite sure I really mean it!

  4. I've used all those except #6 (no car).

    Where I live, so many people are using reusable bags that donations of used plastic shopping bags to thrift stores have slumped. The stores now all display notices that they (desperately) want our old plastic bags.

    Sometimes when I buy something in an online auction, the seller uses plastic grocery bags instead of newspaper to pad the box. That's the only time I get plastic bags to donate to the thrift stores.

  5. We brought back bags from Guatemala. They are plastic, but woven and strong as steel. I love them.

    This is encouraging: it's time I start carrying even more bags with me.

  6. Here in Maine, if I put my bags at the head of the pile with my purchase items, then that's what they'll use - no questions asked. I just have to get my bags at the head of the line, or I'll end up with some stuff in plastic.

  7. I avoid plastic bags if at all possible.... but since we use them to line wastebaskets during stomach flu moments -- of which we have had far, FAR too many this winter -- I'm stumped trying to think of what we'd use instead that wouldn't be just as environmentally bad (since what we'd need would be deep, easily carried by kids, and easy to clean, it seems as if a plastic bucket would be just as grody).

  8. Interesting post! I concur with putting the bags up at the front of the belt.
    One problematic situation is when I buy meat - they really really don't want to put it in a cloth bag. One more reason not to buy grocery store meat I guess!

  9. Here in Portland, Oregon, plastic bags are banned. Yay! If you don't bring your own cloth bags the checker will give you paper.

    Like Eva Girl, I pile up my cloth bags in front of the groceries on the belt. No questions asked.

    And, for full disclosure, we also use the plastic bags for the cat litter. My partner's mom saves them for us. At least they are getting a second use, right?

  10. We have a local humanitarian center who will take all the plastic bags you can bring them. They have people there who crochet mats, that are given to the homeless. They are kind of cushy, and are a protection against the moisture and cold. I love the fact that they are recycling the grocery bags, and helping at the same time.

    I choose not to use plastic, and I think this option is so much better than the trash.

  11. I enjoyed the story about the shoe store cashier. And, I was chuckling at the description of you and your husband giggling! Where my parents live in Ontario most stores charge for bags. I think that's part of the answer - I certainly don't want to PAY for a bag, let alone all the other good reasons to avoid them!

  12. In the city nearest us where I do most of my shopping, plastic bags are against the law. Or ordinance. Stores will sell you a 5 cent paper bag if you've forgotten to bring a bag and need one. I do not love that this had to be legislated but I do love that the plastic bags aren't pushed upon us. I can't imagine that!

  13. Maybe the cashier thought that people would think you stole the shoes without them in a bag.

    Or maybe the cashier was really the owner and wanted everyone to see the name of the store on the bag as you walked to your car = free advertising.

    Trash is actually an interesting topic! How do you dispose of the trash in your house? Do you have a kitchen trash? Trash bins in other rooms? Do you line your trash with a bag? Inquiring minds want to know ALL the details regarding your trash!

  14. dear anon, yes I thought about the cashier's perspective, but we would have had a receipt to prove we weren't shoplifting and I don't like providing free advertising when I have just voted for their store already with my purchase.

    As to our household trash, we have 6 small trashcans and a larger kitchen trash can. I only buy kitchen trash bags. We use 1 about every other week (we compost and recycle, so there's not much trash). I do not line the other trashcans around the house, and then I dump their contents into the kitchen trash bag before I take it out to the trash.

    I still have a number of store plastic bags in my house because someone is always giving us something in a plastic bag. I re-use them for various things until they get holes and then I recycle them in the drop-off barrels at grocery stores.

  15. I really loved this post! I have dealt with many of the same issues. I like the idea of putting your bags up front so they are the first things seen/grabbed. Mine are always at the bottom of the cart, under all the groceries. My line is, "I have my own bags, and I'm happy to come help as soon as I'm done!" (putting the groceries up on the conveyer). I laughed at the shoe store story, like the cashier just couldn't not jam the shoe box in a bag, or they wouldn't sleep that night!

  16. Hey! I just found out that those inflatable plastic thingummies that pad stuff you buy from, say, Amazon can be deflated and recycled with the plastic bags at the grocery store drop-offs.


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