I’m a cashier at a grocery store. Most of the time, when customers come through my line, the routine is the same. I will smile and ask them how they’re doing, they’ll reply and direct the question back at me, and while they’re loading their purchases on the conveyor belt we may engage in some small talk about the weather. The difference between people isn’t evident until I pop the predictable question – “Paper or plastic?”
Even then, most people choose one or the other and go on their way. Of course there are the occasional iconoclasts who request paper inside plastic, but even they’re tame compared to a new, intimidating breed of consumer that’s been appearing more and more frequently. I like to call them “the grocery-bag avengers” – customers who not only bring their own bags, but also supply an attitude to go along with them.
Environmentally conscious customers have been quietly supplying their own bags for a long time, but ever since NBC News aired a story on the subject a few weeks ago, some of them have become more vocal about their cause. The story discussed the amount of paper and plastic grocery bags that end up in American landfills every year – an estimated 500 billion to one trillion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The story profiled a grocery store in Peoria, Ill. that is selling reusable bags for 99 cents in an effort to reduce the paper and plastic quandary.
My store, by contrast, is well behind the curve; it doesn’t even carry paper bags that have handles. Because I have nothing to offer them except the basic choices, the grocery-bag avengers have deduced that I’m a part of an evil conspiracy to destroy the planet.
“I have my own bags. Didn’t you see the news a while ago? Your bags are awful for the environment,” they hiss. They then proceed to watch me like vultures, ensuring that I won’t toss a package of foam cups into their purchases or perform some other sinister act to stab Mother Nature in the gullet. There must be some pamphlet out there warning these people that cashiers will do this if they avert their eyes for just a second.
Which reminds me: All of the grocery-bag avengers I’ve encountered so far are female. If Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is a step forward for my gender, this is at least a step-and-a-half back. I wonder what role the men are playing in this issue. Do husbands and boyfriends discourage this behavior and subsequently get left at home, do they just not know what kind of person their female companions become when they enter the grocery store or are they really just waiting outside with a bazooka in case I try to run? And for you single guys out there, does it matter to you what kind of bags your frozen burritos get tucked into as long as you get back in time to “pwn some n00bs” in “World of Warcraft”?
It’s also surprising how the “stick it to the cashier” attitude of the grocery bag avengers causes them to overlook their own safety. They squawk when I reach for plastic bags to separate meats and cleaning products from the rest of their groceries. But if I have to accelerate the decay of the planet to make sure they aren’t eating doughnuts with leaked meat juice and laundry detergent in them, I will.
Don’t get the wrong idea here; I care about the planet. I recycle and reuse what I can, and I applaud those who supply their own bags because that’s the one thing I always forget when I go shopping. But the attitude isn’t necessary. It’s useless to get testy with me just because I work for a wasteful industry. So let’s just keep on talking about the weather, because when I tell you to have a nice day after I give you your receipt, I want to mean it.