Thursday, August 20, 2009

Paper or Plastic

While out shopping for supplies (you know, for the survival kit), I couldn't help but think of some of the stores I've been in over the years. We didn't have big chain stores where I grew up. In fact, we didn't even have a McDonald's! That finally arrived a few years after I had graduated high school and left that small town. So you can imagine my excitement and enthusiasm at finally going to McDonald's when I was a teenager visiting my cousins in San Francisco one summer. It was amazing! I was finally in the place that I'd seen so many times on tv! And I had no clue how to order anything! Luckily, my cousins went first and ordered, and one took the time to point out the pictures of the orders so I'd know what to get. Imagine that, pictures of the food so you'll know what to order!

And as thrilling as McDonald's Big Mac was (and still is my fave McDonald's burger), I had discovered the following day just how much more I preferred Burger King! Luv the taste of the flame broiled Whopper! And it was huge compared to the McDonald burgers. Of course, over the years, I've learned that sometimes, chains don't always provide the same quality service. Some Burger Kings are better than others, even if they're only a few miles apart. And sometimes, different chains provide different services all together.

Take grocery store chains, for instance. In the Southeast, I remember shopping at the Pig, Krogers, Winn Dixie, and Food Lion. They offered to have a bagboy take your groceries to your car. You just had to make sure to tip the bagboy. I've never had anyone offer to take out my groceries for me. We didn't have that where I grew up. Everyone just carried out their own grocery bags. Then there was Chicago. We went to Aldi's, where you had to rent a shopping cart. That's right. You had to rent a shopping cart for a quarter, and you couldn't take it out to the parking lot! What the hell was that all about? Seriously, is there a high rate of shopping cart thefts going on? But the strangest experience had to be Idaho, at a WinCo store. You had to bag your own groceries! That's right. You had to bag your own groceries!

So imagine my relief when I got to Texas and went to HEB. I didn't know the correct name of the store. Each letter was pronounced separately as in H E B; it was not one word, not Heb! I may not have known how to pronounce it, but I knew that I liked it! They not only bagged my groceries and let me take out the shopping cart to the parking lot, they also offered for someone to help take my groceries to the car for free! Not that I've ever had anyone take out my groceries for me, even if it was free. I like taking them out of the store by myself. It's how I was raised. Personal preference, I suppose.

Which brings me to the age old question: Paper or Plastic? Does anyone even offer paper bags anymore? Remember those big old brown paper bags? Those were useful. I could take them apart and use them as a cover for my textbook or wrapping paper for a box to be mailed off. I can't remember the last time a store even offered paper bags. Even the liquor store down the street puts the bottles in plastic bags. And what about adult entertainment magazines? Are those still placed in paper bags? Then again, is anyone even buying those anymore, especially with the abundance of free adult sites on the internet? Maybe it's just economics, that paper bags cost more to make, and using them less means saving trees. And don't we all want to save trees?

I suppose plastic bags are more convenient, with the easy to carry handles, and I can reuse them as liners for my waste baskets. But aren't paper bags more earth friendly, as in, if they aren't recycled, they breakdown easier in landfills compared to plastic bags? Sure paper bags are flammable (which can be fun when used in certain pranks), but plastic bags can suffocate you, and there's no fun in that. Of course, you can set the plastic bag on fire and watch it drip fire, which looks pretty cool, but I understand that the fumes are hazardous to your health. The fumes cause respiratory problems, cancer, and impotence! So in addition to killing you, you can't even get aroused, so you might as well be dead. Because really, what's the point of living if you can't enjoy a little loving?

I've heard in other places, people bring their own grocery bags, the reusable kind. It's supposed to be a very green thing to do. So I thought I'd give it a shot. In fact, the opportunity came up around Earth day, when HEB offered a free reusable cloth bag in exchange for 5 plastic bags that we bring to the store for recycling. I was so proud of doing my part for the environment, and that reusable bag was a green color! I did my shopping and had my groceries put in that green bag. I carried that green bag of groceries out of the store like a badge of honor.

That was a great day, I felt like I had done something wonderful, doing my part to save the planet. That was also the last day that I used that green bag. It now sits in the back of my vehicle, holding the paper towels, napkins, and other picnic items that I don't want rolling around the trunk. I don't like having a messy trunk. Being green is a lot more work and commitment than I thought. But I got another reusable shopping bag today, and I used it instead of plastic bags. I think if I keep on using it, it'll eventually become a habit, a good habit.

But I can't help but wonder, whatever happened to bagboys asking people if they wanted paper or plastic? Because it's really not about personal preference; it's not about whether paper bags or plastic ones are better. It is about having a choice. With so many large chain stores taking over, I had to wonder, do we have a choice anymore? Because when it comes to shopping, I find myself in a lot of big chains, because it's convenient and it saves me money. And by doing so, am I contributing to the demise of the small neighborhood store? Without these competing stores, my choices are limited to what the chains have on hand. And though I may be saving money now, I can't help but wonder if I'm going to be paying more somewhere down the line. By trying to save money, am I also giving up choice?

Sometimes, the smartest thing to do isn't necessarily the wisest. The right thing to do is never the easiest. Then again, sometimes,the most important things in our lives are often worth the extra effort.


  1. wellllllllllll, if i forget my reusable bags for publix or kroger or fresh market and i'm asked if i wnt paper or plastic, i ask for plastic and bring them back on the next shopping trip!

    the larger issue that you've raised is each of us doing our little bits to save resources. it's all about relearning/remodeling old habits. xoxoxo

    (we should all exchange reusable grocery store bags!)

  2. The paper or plastic? question to me is like one of those deer-in-the-headlights things.

    I finally came down on the side of paper as it is made from a renewable resource.

    The reusable bags? I may go to those for planned shopping at HEB. Otherwise, paper. Plastic as a last resort.

  3. Savannah You're right. If we can learn to change our habits for the better, we become better people, and the world will be a better place.

    I'm keeping my other reusable bag in the car, so I'll have it with me when I go to the store.

    XL, Excellent point on paper bags being a renewable resource! And sometimes, I don't want anyone to see what I've bought. Plus, the brown paper bag absorbs grease so much better than paper towels!

    I try to make all my trips to HEB (or any store) planned. I have to keep a list or else I forget what I'm supposed to buy or buy things that I don't need.

  4. Did you order Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat) in SF?

  5. MJ, Nope! I was determined to visit all those fast food places I'd seen advertised on tv:

    Wendy's--eh, was all right.

    Taco Bell--delicious, but I thought there'd be a bell inside to ring.

    KFC--outstanding friend chicken!

    Arby's--the roast beef sandwiches
    were tasty.

    Didn't get to try the San Francisco treat--though I was propositioned to turn some San Francisco tricks.

  6. Mr E , renting your shopping cart is very European altho they dont do it much in the UK .
    Do you not have the self service tills over there yet where you scan and pack your own stuff.....its much quicker , well unless your a girl , all them famed multi tasking skills seem to fly straight out of the window.
    Never join a self scanning queue with a confused and flustered girl at the front , you will be there for hours

  7. I like plastic bags , they are good for picking up Dog Logs

  8. Beast, I was shocked that we had to rent a shopping cart. I looked around to be sure then I asked my friend, "Um, are we in the airport? Because I swear that's the only place I've been to that rents out carts!"

    We have those self scanning checkouts! But I avoid them, because I want to get my money's worth and have the cashier punch in my items and bag them up for me! It keeps them employed and out of danger of being replaced by an machine!

    Picking up dog doo is another good use of the plastic bag. You just can't set that loaded plastic bag on fire and leave it on someone's porch like you would a paper bag.

  9. Paper bags are so American. I love seeing American shows, films or comics where the shopper would exit the store with an armful of paper bags. I'm thinking Marge doing the shopping in The Simpsons, or Calvin's mom from Calvin & Hobbes.

    Here in the UK (well, certainly in Sainsbury's), you're a social pariah if you don't bring your own reuseable bags.
    The only supermarkets where you have to 'rent' a trolley are the low rent ones like Morrisons or Asda (Walmart).

  10. IDV, Huh, I never thought of it that way, but you're right! When I visited Greece, all they had was blue plastic bags.Some parts of the US have banned plastic bags because of pollution and environmental concerns. The debate of paper vs plastic rages on.

    I still don't like having to rent a cart to do the shopping! That's just the store being greedy! Now, it'd be a different story if I got a rickshaw instead, and the person pulling me around the store in the carriage made stops to fetch the items for me. That's the kind of service I'd gladly pay for.

  11. Why don't you get BEAST to drive you around on his mobility scooter?

    It has a very large front basket...perfect for grocery shopping.

  12. MJ, I would ask him but Beast comes from the UK. where they drive on the wrong side of the road. I'm afraid we'd run over a lot of shoppers--although, the sight of people fleeing and screaming for their lives as we roll in might make the shopping experience lively and fun!

  13. At some chains up here the 25 cent fee for shopping carts is to get our lazy fat asses in North America to return the carts to a central area (and get your refund) rather than leaving them all over the parking lot.

    and yes, you should take your reusable shopping bags and walk to a local store whenever possible for small purchases. [Don't you love commenters who tell you what you SHOULD be doing?]

  14. Snooze, My friend in Chicago says they're doing that now--a quarter to use the cart and you get it back when you return the cart!

    I don't understand these lazy idiots who just leave shopping carts all over the parking lot when there're cart return stations all over the parking lot!

    I'm getting better with using my reusable shopping bag! Still, I like using the plastic bags as liners for my waste bins.