My grandmother had what seemed from to me, a funny habit with plastic bags. But first, let’s back up.
When I was a little kid, we had wax paper. We had wax paper for sandwiches and wax paper for covering bowls in the fridge, wax paper for all the uses where plastic is used now. Plastic obviously took the whole storage and freshness question to new heights, it was a boon, a valuable invention.
So back to my grandmother. When plastic bags started replacing wax paper, she saved and re-used the plastic bags–which were, as I mentioned, seen as valuable and not yet ubiquitous–for all kinds of things. She thought they were a miracle invention–precious almost.
As my grandmother aged, and I alongside her, I noticed a growing abundance of plastic bags in her house. In drawers, jammed in with the pots and pans, stored in grocery bags. She still felt they were precious and besides, they were still good–and she was from a generation that used things until they were worn out. Nowadays we only plan on using things until the marketing arm of various companies tell us to dump the old thing for the new thing.
My grandmother hadn’t made the change in her mind–she never made it, in fact. She never quite got over the value of plastic bags, never saw them as disposable, because they were still good. In fact, back in the 70’s, I recall various contraptions people designed to help re-use plastic bags. They were in vogue for about a new york minute since people largely can’t be bothered with so much effort to re-use the thing we can throw away and get so many more of in the same new york minute.
So when she became too old to be in her home and had to move to a care center, at the ripe old age of 94 (she lived to 101), we had to clean out her house to put it on the market. As you can probably guess, there were stashes of plastic bags everywhere–and I mean everywhere. She continued to re-use them but who can possibly re-use as many as are coming in? It was a phenomenal sight–bags of plastic bags in the cupboards, in the drawers, in the hall closet, everywhere.
And I think back now to this now with a larger frame in mind. I think of my grandmother’s unwitting demonstration of how many plastic bags one can collect, use, and dispose of one’s lifetime. She was a living experiment–she actually kept most of the plastic bags that came into her possession and it was an unbelievable sight. The amount of plastic bags we collect is, honestly, phenomenal and unthinkable.
Changing my own plastic bag habitz
I’ve started on my new habit changing project and we’re doing pretty well with it, as a household. Plastic bags we use and can re-use go right back in the canvas bags for use at the store in the coming week.
Plastic bags that are manufactured to hold things with zip lock tops–like raisins, nuts, what have you–are cleaned and used for sandwiches and fridge storage. Sure, they have branding all over them, but hey. You get used to it.
I’m already seeing a big reduction in the plastic recycling bag we keep under the sink. It used to be brimming most of the time with bags, but it’s pretty lame and empty right now–a good sign. So, how will I measure success? Haven’t figured it out yet, but so far, the switch to being conscious about plastic is going well.
Except for the depressing realization that plastic is everywhere all the time, and the gnawing question about where all that plastic goes…but I’ll leave that for another day.