Bag It, Baby

My hometown of Los Angeles passed a law not too long ago requiring grocery stores to charge customers for bags. It is for the environment. And it is a pain in the ass.

I consider myself to be environmentally-minded. But I also use disposable plastic bags. Plastic bags become poop bags for my dogs, and they refuse to cut back on the pooping. Paper bags are used to gather paper recycling inside the house and for bagging used kitty litter. So even though I have enough canvas bags to carry a month’s worth of groceries (mostly poached from tech conference vendors) I still sometimes want the types of old-fashion plastic and paper grocery bags that we used to get for free from the market.

The problem is that disposable plastic and paper grocery bags in LA have now become very difficult to get your hands on.

The most sensible solution in theory would be to just go to the grocery store and at the checkout counter tell them to charge me an extra dollar and to give me 20 of those 5-cent bags. But in practice, this causes great confusion to the grocery store clerks. Not only do they act like I must be some unicorn-startup-CEO-billionaire to be throwing around bag money like that, but they seem to even have trouble with the concept that somebody might just want bags.

So instead, I lie. I tell them “Oh, shoot! I forgot my canvas bags.” Now this they can understand, because apparently people must do this all the time. The first response I usually get is a hesitant query about whether I want to pay for bags.   And they always seem surprised when I say I do, even when I’m standing there with a shopping cart filled with food. I am a penny-pincher by nature, but apparently there are people far cheaper than me who will leave the store with a cart full of loose groceries just to save five cents a bag.

But no matter how emphatically I tell them to bag everything—I’m good for it. I swear”, the store clerks just don’t believe it. They seem shocked that somebody would so frivolously spend money on five-cent bags. Sometimes, I feel like I should show just how magnanimous I am, and shout to the whole checkout area: “BAGS ARE ON ME FOR EVERYBODY IN LINE!” They would cheer and shout and pat me on the back, and I would for one moment be a hero. But of course, the environment would suffer, so I don’t do it.

Even when I insist that everything gets bagged, the store clerks somehow cannot help themselves from leaving some percentage of  items unbagged.   Nowadays in LA apparently, anything that is bigger than a pickle jar somehow does not deserve a bag. I don’t know why this changed.  Just a year or two ago they would bag everything that could fit in a bag. But now somehow laundry detergent, small bags of cat food, even juice bottles have joined the ranks of “the unbaggable”.

And in case you are wondering, this new trend is not about saving the environment. When I bring in large quantities of canvas bags they do the same thing. I could have twenty canvas bags stacked in my cart and only ten items and they will still pick up the laundry detergent and ask me, “Do you want this bagged?”

OF COURSE I want it bagged! I have to carry it, the bag makes it easier, the bag is reusable, and I brought in enough bags to clear out Aisle 10. Your job is to bag stuff. Just put the damn laundry detergent in the bag!

But the new grocery bag prohibition law has caused more problems than having to leave the store with nine loose items clanging around in your cart: reusable bag theft.  That’s right.  in LA reusable canvas bags have now become a pretty hot commodity.  So now I also fear for my bags while shopping. Not everybody has a big stash of canvas bags like me, and people have taken my canvas bags while I’ve been at the end of the aisle or preoccupied with reading labels.  So now I have to always be mindful that the canvas bags are a high-theft item and look around at all times like I’m on the subway rather than a cereal aisle.

You may be unfamiliar with this bag scene because the new neurotic tendencies triggered by the grocery bag prohibition law have not yet extended to other parts of the nation.  I also spend a fair amount of time in a small town in a neighboring state. And now because I am in the habit of bringing in canvas bags when I shop in LA, I do the same thing when I shop anywhere else. But here’s the interesting thing: if you bring those canvas bags to the checkout counter in rural America, be prepared for mass confusion.  What?  You brought your own bags?  We have bags here. Whatcha’ bringing bags to us for? We’re supposed to give you bags? Our bags ain’t good enough for you? As a matter of fact who are you? You seem kind of suspicious with your fancy bags and your fancy talk…

So I don’t bring the reusable canvas bags in the store when I’m outside LA anymore. Even though they are sitting right there in the car and it is a waste for them to give me disposable bags, I don’t do it.  It is not worth the headache. Instead, I take their disposable plastic bags with me and smuggle them back into LA.  It all evens out.  I am just circling back to help the environment.


Submitted by: Simon Kadella