Back in March, as I was getting ready to launch the Bal Tashchit Balabusta, I wrote a pair of extra blog posts to have ready to go for weeks that became especially busy. My plan was to always have at least one post prepped and ready, like an apple kugel in the freezer for Shabbos. Then COVID hit, and I certainly needed some ready-to-serve posts. There was just one problem with the two I had: one was about cutting out single-use shopping bags (as most places banned reusable bags), and the other was about ways to reduce waste at work, written before businesses were shut down.
“A super-easy way to get started reducing waste is by cutting out single-use shopping bags,” I wrote in the first week of March, not knowing that there would soon be weeks of ordering groceries for pickup from Target or Walmart and taking however many single-use bags they gave me. Then it was back to shopping inside stores, but with new restrictions. For the first time in 10 years, my husband and I weren’t able to use our huge stash of renewable bags for shopping trips: tote bags given out when we made calls for the Jewish Federation’s Super Sunday, lots more totes from professional conferences, camp bags from kids’ backyard camps, and more. Over the years, we had worked out systems about where to keep them, how to cycle them from the house back to the vehicles after each use, and other small logistical matters. With the addition of mesh vegetable bags, we had made single-use bags shopping bags obsolete in our house.
Fast forward—I had five, count them, one, two, three, four, five, FIVE plastic bags stuffed with dozens and dozens of plastic bags in my van, waiting to go into the bin outside our grocery store for recycling (in reality, downcycling, but more on that in another post) on my next grocery trip. And that was after I used a bunch of the bags to stuff inside my purses to help them keep their shape. COVID-19 or not, something had to change before I developed a rare and strange allergy to the mere thought of all that single-use plastic in my house and van.
Then, I remembered a great suggestion from Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson: You can refuse to accept plastic bags. Just because there was a plexiglass sheet between the cashier and me at the drugstore didn’t mean I couldn’t still say, “Thank you, but I don’t need a bag.” I went back to sliding small purchases into my purse (making sure I had the receipt handy, of course) or my pockets. When I forget to bring a bag on a little errand, I just carry whatever doesn’t fit in my purse in my hands to the car, where I keep a tote bag filled with more reusable tote bags. Of course, I wasn’t going to ask any essential worker in a store to handle my bag or two, but I could (and did) avoid the whole problem by saying, “Just slide my things down the belt, and I’ll bag them myself.”
Of course, a week’s worth of shopping wasn’t going to fit in a purse or pockets or even two or three bags. One week, it occurred to me that I had still had my reusable bags out in the van that I was free to use as long as I didn’t ask Miss Linda, our favorite salesclerk, to touch them. Instead of bagging the groceries, I asked her if I could just put everything straight back in the cart after she rang it up. Now, when we shop anywhere with a cart that you can take to the car, we ask that our groceries be put back in the cart, sans bags. We’ve never been told no, and it takes about five minutes to stash everything in reusable things up in the back of the van.
The fate of my county’s ban on single-use plastic bags, which went into effect in January 2020 only to be quickly discontinued because of COVID, is unknown. But ban or no, I can still eliminate these bags that wind up clogging municipal sewage and drainage systems, charges that have to be paid by the taxpayers. (By the way, these strategies have worked so well that last week I had the problem of having no bags in the house.)
And, because the energy required to make 12 paper bags is enough to power a car for one mile, I took a moment to stop and think about how the precious gift of energy we get from HaShem is better used to drive to do bikkur cholim, to make it to a shiur, or to drop off food for a family that has just had a baby, or a thousand other uses than making a plastic bag.
Tizku l’mitzvos, and have a great week!
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