I felt happily stunned yesterday when I stopped for something at the corner store (which locals call the "ghetto Safeway" and where workers on breaks stand smoking glumly in the parking lot), and the nice checker asked, "Where's your bag today?"
To put this moment of triumph in context, I should explain that my neighborhood grocery is not only drab and depressing but rather perversely out of step with the times. So it's taken years of saying "No bag, please" to wipe the disgusted surprise off the faces of other checkers whose thought bubble shouts, "Sure, you freakazoid. Use your stupid eco-bag. Guess our plastic isn't good enough for you."
I've even had smug checkers argue that I should take the plastic bag because there is a bin outside where I can put it when I am finished with it—as if changing my habits should be avoided at all costs. My cloth bag preference is clearly an affront there. But small habits, just like small groups of dedicated people, eventually make big changes.
One small group pushing a big change is the Environment California crew, which worked to get 10,000 petition signatures by this week's Los Angeles city council meeting on May 23. The group, hoping to ban single-use bag plastic bags in a city of almost 4 million people, reports that "there is 100 times more plastic pollution in the ocean today than there was 40 years ago." The nonprofit is waiting on pins and needles to see what Los Angeles decides, because a ban there would mean that one in four Californians would be living plastic-bag-free, which is big progress toward a state-wide bag ban.
Bag habits die hard. The American bag habit, exported to Europe via retailers, has bled into a world where people just automatically took cloth bags to the store. According to a March report by the Daily Mail, however, large retail stores gave out 6.4 billion plastic bags with merchandise in 2011, increasing the United Kingdom's annual use by 333 million in one year.
The same report announced that Brussels is considering a single-use plastic bag ban, across all of Europe, within the next two years. Some suspect the current bag giveaways could reach 10 billion next year, the equivalent of 300 plastic bags per household, per year.
The United States consumes an estimated 300 billion plastic bags per year, with 20 billion issued here in California. Fewer than 5 percent of those are recycled. I'd like to explain that to the Los Angeles City Council—and to my neighborhood grocery checkers.
For more, see www.environmentcalifornia.org.