By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Black & White & Green Allover

I did it again. Forgot my reusable, ever-so-green shopping bags. I bought the black and white striped bags at IKEA months ago, but I’m having a hard time forging the habit of actually getting them inside the supermarket. As the estimable frog said, “It isn’t easy being green.”

According to Scott H. Young on, it only takes three to four weeks to make a habit automatic. Of course, he’s only nineteen, so what does he know? In spite of his extreme youth, he does seem to have some good ideas, though. He says, “Consistency is critical if you want to make a habit stick. ...Activities you do once every few days are trickier to lock in as habits.” I think that’s my problem—I usually only do grocery shopping once a week, so it’s difficult to remember the reusable bags.

A clerk at Fred Meyers gave me a good tip. When I told her I was mad at myself for forgetting my shopping bags, she suggested putting them in the trunk of my car (I suppose I should take the bus if I really want to be green, but that’s another blog.) as soon as I unload the groceries. That way, they’re always with you even if you make an unplanned shopping stop. I’ve adopted this policy, but on my last supermarket excursion I left the bags in the car and didn’t think of them until I had my shopping cart almost full. I could have temporarily abandoned the cart to retrieve the bags from the parking lot, but I was too lazy, plus I was afraid a clerk might start restocking the items it had taken me almost an hour to choose.

The trunk-storage tip was the first time a clerk had seemed somewhat favorably disposed toward shoppers bringing their own bags. My previous experiences with checkers had been slightly to markedly hostile. Initially when I presented my shopping bags to a clerk with a cheery “I’ve brought my own!” greeting, fully expecting to be praised for my commendable environmental consciousness, I received a scowl in return. I soon saw why. The IKEA bags were designed for housewares, not food. They’re too big to fit comfortably in the space the checker has to use while bagging the groceries, and once full, they’re way too heavy for a smallish clerk to easily place in the shopping cart. Thanks to weight lifting, I don’t mind the bags being heavy when I have to unload them when I get home, but watching the clerk struggle made me realize why she wasn’t particularly endeared with my totes.

Since my IKEA purchase, many grocery stores have started selling in-house reusable bags. Recently, Fred Meyer had a coupon for three free bags if you spent $75 on groceries. I generally spend around $100 on a shopping trip, so I asked the clerk to put my purchases into the three bags I expected to receive from the coupon, but I was a few dollars short. You can imagine how happy she was to have to unload the groceries and repack them in my giant IKEA bags. The next time I was at the store the coupon was still in effect, but this time I kept a running tab on a calculator to make sure I spent enough money to get the free bags.

The Fred Meyer bags are smaller than the IKEA totes, so they’re easier for the clerks to use. Now when I present them to a checker, the reaction is usually no more negative than a small sigh. I suspect management has conducted training sessions on staff acceptance of reusable bags. The store gives a five cent rebate for each bag a shopper brings in, so presumably the corporation wants to encourage their use. Company policy is not always enforced, though. Some time ago, I asked a clerk about how they recycle plastic bags. The store provides a large container for plastic with a sign thanking customers for recycling. The clerk responded, “We recycle them into the garbage bin out back.” That’s when I quit returning plastic bags to grocery stores.

But I really do want to stop contributing plastic to landfills, and I’m hoping reusable shopping bags might help. If I can just manage to use them. Dr. Stephanie Burns is another Web source for establishing new habits, but I’m not so sure I want to practice all of her suggestions, one of which is to wear a rubber band on your wrist. Considering how often I’ve forgotten my reusable bags over the past few months, all I can say is, “Ouch!”

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Friday, November 16, 2007


Vandals destroyed some of the beauty in our lovely new White Center Heights Park. In June, Starbucks donated $550,000 and massive amounts of volunteer labor for the seven-day extreme makeover of the small community park. I worked six of the seven days and feel both pride and a sense of ownership. One of the things I love most about the makeover is the inclusion of art. Now part of the art is gone.

The bare posts say it all. Don Haig, Acting Supervisor III of Park Operations for King County, told me at a meeting for Friends of Hicks Lake volunteers that the glue on the post caps didn’t set properly. The vandals pulled the beautiful glass caps off and smashed them. The caps the vandals left in place were removed by King County to prevent them from being broken, too. Ironically, security cameras scheduled to be installed before the vandalism occurred were put in place just a week after the glass caps were destroyed. Not that the cameras would have prevented the destruction, but catching and punishing the culprits might have prevented future problems.

When I volunteered for a Lakewood Park cleanup in September, Geraldine, another King County employee, told me Parks Operations plans to replace the caps with new ones made of some kind of material less likely to be broken, i.e. plastic or metal. I’m guessing the replacements will not be as beautiful as the original glass caps. So sad not everyone shares in the desire to improve our White Center community.

Some time ago, my sister and I rode on the subway during a visit to Hollywood. We sat, outraged but silent, watching a vandal use a knife to scratch a message on a window. We both wanted to stop him but were afraid—after all, he had a knife. Now, I’m asking you to do what I say, not what I did. If you see someone degrading our shared public spaces, do something. You don’t need to put yourself in danger. You probably carry a cell phone; go where you won’t be seen and call the authorities. Everyone who loves parks will thank you.

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