Paper or Plastic?

“Paper or plastic?” It’s a trick question I’m asked every time I shop at Target. I feel like the cashiers are really asking me, “Would you like to kill trees or strangle aquatic life today?”

I’ve wished for the last couple years that I could boldly answer the Sophie’s Choice of shopping questions here in Minnesota, but I can see two sides to most situations and it makes major decisions pretty difficult for me. I love trees and don’t want to be responsible for the loss of life or limb just because I need many containers to haul my Target run purchases. But I also care about marine life and don’t want them to choke once I’ve disposed the multiple wrappers of my consumerism. I feel like this is an unlikely scenario, since I recycle them – and I would hope that the recycling facilities my plastic bags go to aren’t perched on the edge of the ocean with open factory windows that allow my bags to be released into the water – but I’d rather not take a chance. I do my grocery shopping at Target and I’m tempted to blame the company and their brilliant merchandising efforts that result in me buying so much stuff that it needs to be contained in no less than seven bags almost every time I go there. But I know it’s actually because I’m a creature of habit and haven’t committed to changing my ways when it comes to addressing the fate of our environment.

Lately, I’ve found myself feeling convicted when I see the reusable bags on display at checkout, so I try to do self-checkout or find empty lanes so that I’m not waiting in line, in full view of the reusable bags that are taunting me, whispering: If you don’t buy me it means you don’t care about the environment. For people like me, Target should display the environmentally friendly cloth bags with a sign next to them that has a picture of the world crying with a caption that says, You’re hurting me when you use paper or plastic. That would get me to buy reusable bags. Tears get me every time – just like when the crying Native American in the ’70s PSA got me to stop littering. Or maybe I’d be more sympathetic to our earth’s plight if the cashiers would start bawling as they ask me if I’d like paper or plastic and then said, “Either way, you’re destroying the planet and there will be nothing left of it for your great-grandchildren – waaaah aah aah!” If I should own Target’s reusable bags why am I not offered that by cashiers every single time I check out – along with the Red card? “You can save 5% and the planet every time you shop.”

I do care about the environment but I simply don’t think about it unless I’m forced to. I also care about my sanity. I’m trying to de-clutter my home so that I’m not so overwhelmed. I’ve thought that I haven’t had the space to store reusable bags conveniently so that I would remember to take them with me when I go to Target. I feel that a considerate person like me should have started using cloth bags long ago – way before it was trendy to care about our planet. I really don’t want to be making choices that hurt the world or anything in it. So, when I’m asked if I prefer paper or plastic, I respond by handing the decision back to the cashier and say, “Whatever’s easiest for you.”

I just discovered which one must be preferred by most cashiers at Target. I have been battling the ironing board perched in my pantry closet for the past week. I rarely use it and usually have it stored flat against the wall. I cleaned behind it a couple months ago, but something pushed it forward recently. I had to push it back and hold it out of the way with one hand whenever I wanted something from the pantry shelves. I had a busy week, so instead of investigating what caused the problem I kept trying to keep it in place by wedging lunch boxes beside it and stacking groceries in front of it. I finally got tired of doing battle with the ironing board when I was craving s’mores and it was blocking my supply of Hershey bars. I pulled the ironing board out of the closet and a volcano of paper bags from Target came shooting out – 48 of them. That’s roughly a small tree worth of bags for two months of shopping. I did the math and I realized I probably use around 288 paper bags a year (or six small trees). This estimate doesn’t even factor in all of the plastic bags I’ve also acquired over the past couple of months. I was afraid to look at my plastic bag stash under the bread shelf out of fear that I would find a dolphin tangled up in them.

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I put the paper bags in my recycle bin and pushed my ironing board back against the pantry wall. I realized that there is now plenty of storage space behind it for reusable shopping bags. I plan on buying seven of them on my next trip to Target.

Happy Earth Day!


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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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