Different Opinions on "the Environment"

Posted Friday, May 2, 2008 3:56 PM by Romo

From time to time I check in at the No Impact Man blog to see what's new. Something new-to-me on my latest visit is his April 21st post on recent work by journalist Michael Pollan (whom I've blogged about before).The post has a solid exposition of Pollan's thoughts on the current environmental crisis and is filled with lots of good details, and then continues on to explain where No Impact Man disagrees with Pollan's bottom line (roughly, that the environmental crisis is really a crisis of character!). As No Impact man moves in to the critique portion, he has a paragraph that starts

"No one I know wants to throw a plastic cup away every time they drink a coffee. Or to toss a plastic bag. Or to feel like their living comfortably will cost the earth."

He goes on with his hypothesis that inaction is more of a paralysis caused by lack of knowledge of how to change. Which sounds nice. But apparently No Impact Man has yet to meet my cashier at Publix last night.

While I was waiting in line the cashier and the customer ahead of me were talking about bagging options and the cashier said she heard people want to make plastic bags illegal and get rid of them unless you pay for them. The customer she was talking to gave her a disinterested look, but I said, "Oh, you know, they did that in Ireland around 2003!" Then the cashier told me that's ridiculous because how would she know how many bags it would take and how much to charge the customer?! I said something like, "Yeah..." and then added that I heard that in Ireland* people did adjust after a couple months and started bringing their own bags without too much fuss. To which the cashier explained that people who shop at Publix are soo-oo-oo stubborn that they freak out when the look of the labels on the deli items change. I agreed that people get ten to get stuck in their ways, and then said something vague like "Well... at least the people who do choose to bring their own bags are doing something to keep all those bags out of the landfills, eh?..." By then I was all checked out and with my groceries bagged up in my reuseable bag so we said goodnight and parted ways.

All in all it was a pleasant exchange, and from the loose transcription here you might not know it, but the truth is that my cashier expressed her complete lack of interest and/or awareness of the purpose behind trying to move away from throw-away plastics. What I mean is, it wasn't a "I don't know how to make this change" or "This change is hard or inconvenient" issue. It was more like a "What problem with plastic?" kind of issue.

I didn't really do much to "inform" her either, but, I mean, come on Publix! You sell reusble bags for a buck and give out free decals promoting them--couldn't you at least educate your cashiers on how to up-sell them?! Maybe they would feel like No Impact Man--that they don't like giving out bags that are just going to be thrown away. And unlike the people No Impact Man knows who don't want to cause harm but don't know how not to, maybe they'd even feel empowered!


About Ireland: My bff lived there as a nanny when the change was happening. She said some of the key points to the success of weaning shoppers off plastic bags was the prevalence of quality and inexpensive reusable options available at every checkstand, and the fact that the selling price for a plastic bag was relatively high in comparison. Something like, pay a quarter for a disposable plastic bag or a dollar for sturdy reusable bag (in euros, though!). And, if I had more time right now, I would research the results that law had and post them, because I remember reading about them after then law had been in place for some time, and the reduction of plastic in landfills was truly impressive!


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