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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At 10:04 PM, Blogger Christine said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Christine said...

Good for you for going green! I've recently attempted to adopt using reusable bags myself. Although I bought two paper-grocery-bag size bags, I've found that the one I use most frequently is a super-compact bag that has a zippered case and is attached to my keys. (There's a link to more information about the particular bag I have on my blog.) It's always with me, which is helpful in terms of remembering to use it (although not, alas, infallible).

I haven't had too many checkers sigh upon seeing it, although a few have been confused. I've seen some of them hang it up on the gizmo they have at their stations for plastic bags, which seems to work reasonably well with this particular design.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Linda Wallace said...

Great blog, Christine. I love your 365 portraits.

The reusable bag you featured looks cool, too. I'm beginning to see more people bringing their own shopping bags to grocery stores. My mother (who is 84 today, lives in Missouri and is definitely not green) told me one of her peers now carries a reusable bag. Every little bit helps.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Carolyn said...

Just surfin't the Blogs and stopped in to say hello.

Cute Bags!



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