For as long as I can remember, there have been "grocery bags." First they were paper, then they were also plastic, and often now you have a choice. But for the past year in Montgomery County, Maryland, you also have another choice. You pay a nickel for every bag you get from the store. But you have a choice of bringing your own reusable bags and avoiding the 5 cent charge.
The logic behind this policy is fairly evident. When bags were all "free," we bagged things wastefully and created mountains of trash. Also paper bags are made from trees and plastic bags are made from petroleum. Petroleum is a resource the world is running out of, and burning it creates gases that contribute to global warming. Cut-down trees can be replanted with seedlings and replaced over time, but we are cutting our forests much faster than we are re-growing them. Saving our wood and oil just makes sense.
The transformation in people's shopping habits during this first year of the new law has been remarkable. In the early months, few people brought bags from home and just paid the extra charges. But every 5 cent charge you paid was a reminder. You began to notice more and more people bringing their bags, and you made mental notes to do the same. When you forgot, you scolded yourself and felt stupid. As you carried your groceries out in plastic, you imagined people staring at you disapprovingly. Then you became a regular.
Social distinctions then appeared. The "better" stores have their own better bags including their branded snob appeal. Not many people are seen bringing Wal Mart bags in to shop at Whole Foods. (Bill Maher's name for Whole Foods is "Whole Paycheck.") But the new law applies everywhere and is no respecter.
I have not seen figures on the amount of wasted wood and petroleum saved by this one law in this one county, but it has to be significant. I do not know the effect if the law became a national one, but the result would have to be huge.
Like others, I was resistant to this law at first. But in these few short months, I have become a willing supporter. Bringing my reusable bags is easy and has become second nature. I feel good about saving our resources and the impact of all the waste we used to create.
I know this is one small step, compared to all the steps that are needed to bring our lifestyles into harmony with the evident strains of our economies and environment. But it is something, and it is easy.