When I was learning how to live in Europe a few years ago, one of the hurdles I had to overcome in bridging the culture gap was the food shopping experience. There were a few differences between the grocery experience in the U.S. and the grocery experience in Holland:
- The size of the stores was about a quarter of the size of U.S. stores.
- The variety of selection in Holland was limited not only in the types of food that were available for purchase, but also the brands that were offered.
- There was no concept of baggers. You bagged your own groceries and weathered the brunt of the cashier’s disapproval if you didn’t keep up.
The other big difference was in the bags themselves. Not only were bags not free – you had to pay for them and of course re-use them each time – but they were much larger and more resilient. No more of those flimsy plastic bags that rip and tear. The bags were heavy-duty veneered plastic, with handles that were sown into the top of the bag.
I loved those bags. When I re-patriated to the U.S., I brought all my bags with me and chuckled at the reactions of the teenage baggers at the local Randalls when they tried to bag the groceries in those huge bags. Their training could never cover all of the nuances of packing those things. The skills came down to the same skills one would use in playing Tetris.
Unfortunately, my Dutch shopping bags disappeared in the back of a rental car last year. Now I am relegated to using the flimsy plastic bags again or the cheap cloth bags that H.E.B. sells.
That is all about to change here in Austin as of March 1. The city of Austin is the first major Texas city, and among only 24 other U.S. cities, to place a ban on plastic bags. The difference for Austin is that the bags will be almost completely banned, in all stores.
Reusable bags only.
Not a big issue for me, really. I only have to get over the convenience factor that I have enjoyed over the last few years and revert back to the methods I had to use when I lived in Holland. However, sometime between now and then I have to accumulate a collection of resilient shopping bags that I can tote with me when I shop.
However, I couldn’t help but ponder the pros and cons of this change and how it will affect the overall shopping experience for everyone:
- It will be beneficial for the environment – less plastic ending up in the trash and in landfills.
- It will change the approach to lugging groceries up the stairs – there will be fewer bags but the bags will be heavier.
- It will be an outlet for creativity and the expression of individuality in the form of the designs on the bags that I use – I could potentially have a bag for every mood, for every day.
- It will require more forethought when committing random acts of shopping – I will have to have a bag handy to carry out any purchases in any store, regardless of the type of product being shopped for or purchased.
- I will eventually run out of the freebie plastic bags, the same bags I used to line small wastebaskets and throw out the dirty kitty litter – I will eventually have to spend money to buy small trash bags to service this need.
- It will shift the burden of the cost of supplying the plastic bags from the corporation to the consumer.
- It will result in additional windfall for the corporation, as represented in the additional sales they will enjoy from consumers who habitually forget their reusable bags (that would be me!)
Changes are inevitably accompanied by advantages and disadvantages. But, I have found that with an open mind and a flexible spirit, any change can be managed, navigated, with positive results that may not have been foreseeable beforehand.
With that in mind, I intend to invest in reusable shopping bags between now and March 1. I will seek out as much variety as I can find and hope that I remember my bags when I enter the store; I certainly don’t want to be unnecessarily lining the pockets of the corporate executives. If I don’t remember to bring in my bags, we can add getting more exercise to the list of advantages, as I run out to my car to get the bags I forgot to bring in.
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