Day 105: Packaging Snobbery

We in Canada live in an almost overwhelmingly polite society.  I’ve actually seen people say sorry to inanimate objects at the supermarket after hitting a display with their cart.  Seriously.

It’s not that we’re not friendly, it’s just that we don’t tell other people what to do.  We don’t (usually) chat to strangers on the bus, we don’t intervene in people’s private lives, and we definitely don’t tell people what we think about their personal shopping decisions. . . . do we?

Since becoming a bit of a waste fanatic, I can’t help but notice the long lines of plastic on either side of me at the checkout.  It seems like everything is wrapped in plastic, clingwrap, cardboard, or styrofoam which is subsequently double bagged to be toted 20 steps to the parking lot.

Grant and I used to just buy what we liked at the supermarket.  I don’t mean decades ago, I mean this past spring; it wasn’t very long ago that we shopped with complete obliviousness to the type and amount of packaging we were purchasing.  So, why, as such recent converts, do we feel like we can judge everyone who is not doing what we are doing? “That lady with the single red pepper in a plastic produce bag – what a terrible person” “That man with the stack of TV dinners – blatant disregard for the environment.”

My gosh, we’ve become packaging snobs.

So this brings us to the point of politeness.  Should we say something?  Can I lean over and say “why did you choose to have a single pepper in a flimsy plastic bag that you are going to throw out after only one use”?  Isn’t that overstepping our moral politeness as Canadians?  Isn’t that interfering with someone’s personal choices? Isn’t that rude?

But maybe they don’t know.  Maybe it didn’t cross their mind about the effects that the plastic bag had on the environment, and if I say something, she might think “you know, I don’t need this bag.  Maybe people just need a jump start.

Grant tested this theory the other day.  The man in front of him was buying two small tins of cat food, and as the cashier was bagging them Grant leaned over and said, “Do you really need that plastic bag?” To which the man answered, “Yes, I do”.

At least he tried.

I like the theory of the morsbags that I read about over at My Zero Waste.  You get together with friends, make a bunch of shopping bags out of scrap fabric, and hand them out to people.  I think this would probably be quite effective as you are providing a plastic alternative.  “Excuse me, I happened to notice that you are getting a plastic shopping bag.  If I gave you this fabric one, would you use it instead?”

Seems a little more friendly doesn’t it?  Click here or here to learn more about morsbags. (Patterns and colors to the left not necessarily recommended)

So what do you think?  Would you wisper something into the ear of your supermarket neighbour, or would you hold your tongue?



Filed under interactions, plastic bags, reusable containers

11 responses to “Day 105: Packaging Snobbery

  1. Oooo, we come from politer than politer little ol’ England and I have so wanted to test this theory out. But I really don’t have the guts to do it. Kudos to Grant for trying; I need to get tougher first because I would spend all days taking things personally. My issue I know – I’ll let you know if I step outside my comfort zone with this one!

  2. Jen CleanBin

    Yes, keep me posted, I’d love to hear stories about people actively “suggesting” things to their neighbours.

  3. Haley

    This is a great article! I’ve recently converted, too, and I’m still pretty afraid of looking like a snob.. I feel kind of like a religious zealot, who knows what’s best for everyone else but also knows they don’t really want to be told about it. At all. Even if they would be into the idea.
    That scrap bag thing sounds like a great plan, but I don’t have much scrap, and it sounds time consuming. Aaah, isn’t there an easier way to spread the message without annoying people and alienating ourselves??;;;

  4. Krista

    It’s hard enough sometimes to convince the cashier that *I* don’t need a bag, never mind trying to convince other shoppers what they don’t need. Seriously, if I don’t speak up, they will put a six pack of beer (already in it’s own handy carrier) into two plastic bags.

    The real answer to get through to most people is to create a law that charges you 25 cents for each bag used, so it hits them in the pocketbook. Or even make flimsy disposable plastic bags illegal like some countries have done.

    If I forget my cloth bag and have several items, I usually ask for paper, so I can use it to hold my shredded paper for recycling.

    • Jen CleanBin

      I agree, I think a bag tax might help. I’m actually doing a little experiment for the film comparing stores that give no reusable bag incentive to those who offer points to those who actually charge for bags. Should be interesting.

      I also like the idea of making flimsy bags illegal. i watched a documentary where they showed that in some countries where that has been imposed, companies find little loopholes, like putting handles on flimsy bags and calling them “carrier bags” (which are not banned).

  5. I would not suggest making suggestions to people. I would not react well to them being made to me, and you might not either. I appreciate the concept, but no one want to go through life hearing suggestions, however politely offered, on their driving habits, food choices, exercise routine, grammar, personal hygiene, or plastic usage. You can try it, but my guess is that you will receive nothing but dirty looks, and alter no ones behavior.

    • Jen CleanBin

      You’re probably right that people wouldn’t take that kindly to having me try to tell them to ditch the plastic bags. That’s probably why I have never said anything in public. They say it’s better to lead through actions and not through words and that people only change on their own terms, and I think both are true.

      That said, I think people like hearing new ideas if they don’t think people are just trying to change them. That’s how knowledge is spread around the world.
      Thanks for the thought-prevoking comments.

  6. Lead by example is a great motto, and can certainly say you are doing your part there.

  7. Have you ever heard about ‘extended producer reposnibility?’

    Here at the Recycling Council we are promoting the idea that all consumer products and their associated packaging should be managed cradle-to-cradle by the manufacturer and that it should be paid for, not by all taxpayers as is the current situation with municipal recycling programs, but solely by the producer and the user.

    We already have EPR for such items as tires, paint, pop bottles and consumer electronics, where you pay a small fee at the time of purchase that helps fund a recycling program for the product at the end of its life.

    We happen to think that packaging belongs in an EPR as well, and plastic bags would definitely be part of that.

    Check out the provincial government’s web page for more information on existsing EPR programs:

    One thought to leave you with: If you look in the average kitchen garbage can you will find organics and packaging. A curbside kitchen organics pick up program for the lower mianland will be up and running within the next couple of years. Imagine if we had a take back program for packaging. Our residential garbage output would be slashed to almost nothing!

    • Thanks for the info Mairi. I have definitely heard of EPR, and I’m pretty excited about the possibility of our current systems be extended to other products. It’s true, once you take organics and most packaging out of the garbage can, you’re not left with much! In Toronto they can even put diapers through the compost pick up which I find amazing.

  8. Great post!

    I’ve often wondered what to do in a supermarket too?

    Still, the supermarket is probably not the best place to ‘nag’ (or inspire!) – if people are in a hurry or shop frenzy, they may react negatively..
    maybe it’s better in the private atmosphere of home etc. (or online.. :))

    I did nag & inspire people at home, now trying to inspire relatives a bit (it’s not easy & kinda slow..)
    still trying to figure out how to speak to neighbours or strangers 🙂 thinking of writing a series of articles for local newspaper! 🙂 if they’ll have ’em!

    Another idea is to give gifts of green products – like Morsbags – for birthday or Christmas or such?
    or have a get-together with neighbours to make Morsebags?! (that should teach ’em, eh?! :))

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