Monday, June 13, 2011

Throw Away Your Re-Usable Grocery Bags!

Okay. I admit it. I'm a bagger.

No, not as in Tea Party but as in groceries.

Bagging other people's groceries is one of my responsibilities in my new part-time job--which I'm enjoying very much. It's always interesting to see what travels down the black conveyor belt. A person's groceries is their archeological "finger" or "food" print. 

At the end of the belt are three plastic bag holders that I keep open as I begin my sorting in advance: canned goods, soft goods, produce, cold items, meat, etc. The stands keep the bags upright and open and are placed at just the correct, strategic height to make filling them fast and orderly. I can look down into them as I pack them. One hand grabs an item, then passes it to the next hand in a neat exchange of efficiency. The process is streamlined, cost-effective and labor-saving.

I anticipate and triage in advance. Some customers are great and begin thoughtful sorting as they empty their carts. Others are less accommodating and annoyingly  toss their load on the belt eager to be done and gone. "Helpful" children can complicate the process. Men don't empty a cart as much as "dump it."

When it's busy, the process clicks like clockwork. Zip zip zip. Load. Place in cart. "Have a nice day." That is…. until I hear the dreaded words as I'm packing the next customer's load, "I have my own bags!" It's rarely said in a conciliatory tone. It's often menacing and panic-stricken and goes something like this: "STOP! Oh my god!!! Don't let my stuff touch the plastic!  Don't pollute my groceries, my life, my very being. I brought my own bags, you moron!"

Rarely, and I mean rarely, does a person bring recyclable bags because they want to help the planet and our environment. Most just hate plastic bags and the hassle of storing them.

There is no easy way to load recyclable bags. They are made of soft fabrics that don't stand upright. They have to be loaded on top of the counter so it's difficult to see inside and one hand is usually holding open the bag at all times, so it's a one-handed operation. It's slow and tedious. If people have groceries that would normally fill six plastic bags, but they only have two recyclable bags, they don't care. "Just put it all in," they insist. Whatever . . .

Our store policy is that meat is first placed in a plastic bag before being placed into a paper or recyclable bag. It prevents leakage and stains. But plastic is anathema to many of these people. NO PLASTIC! And that includes produce. If they buy six apples, each comes tumbling bruisingly down the conveyor belt. Lettuces, parsley, celery--none is first put into plastic and all is usually dripping wet. All is put naked into the recyclable bag to dampen the contents of everything they touch--including meat that might be leaking blood. Gross.

Unlike plastic bags, or even paper bags, recyclable bags are not standardized. Their geometry is chaotic, especially when it comes time to "squeeze" them into a cart. I don't know why, but people love to bring bags bearing the names of competitive stores. I guess they think it's cute. Maybe they use our bags when they go to other stores. I don't know. I just find it rude.

But my real pet peeve concerning recyclable bags is their unsanitary nature. While we've been indoctrinated with the drill that recyclable is "better," (whole companies satellite this industry) no one argues their unhealthy context. Most--and I mean most--are dirty, soiled, stained and disgusting. They are used over and over and over and never laundered or cleaned. Or even thrown away. They have no business being brought into a grocery store.

Once a woman yelled the obligatory, "I brought my own bags!" and threw two large black bags toward me. I was stunned. They were covered in dog hair! Lots of it. You could even smell it. It was like, "WHAT? You expect ME to touch those, let alone put FOOD into them? Are you just freaking NUTS?" And I work at a high-end grocery store.

"Dog bags" are not uncommon. People keep a pile of recyclable bags in the back seats of their car, apparently. A perfect place for Fido to curl into on a friendly ride. Fleas and all. "No pets allowed" is clearly marked on the entrance door of the store. I guess we need to specify that includes their dander, saliva and germs.

One woman's recyclables resembled a Jackson-Pollock painting. It was covered in multi-colored stains: red, green, blue, black. I gingerly held the strap with my fingers as I pushed in her "food."

God only knows where these bags are stored. Many, I'm sure, are thrown under the kitchen sink next to the trash. They are placed on dirty kitchen floors and counters. Car trunks. They are handled by those who are sick. They are sneezed on. Coughed on. And they have no business in a grocery store where they cross-contaminate everything they touch. Including moi!

Like most grocery stores, mine is committed to cleanliness and freshness. Sanitary wipes greet you the minute you walk in and are even placed around the store for your benefit (and those of others).  And, like most stores, we offer bins for the very plastic bags you hate so much. We will recycle them for you!

Please, keep your dirty laundry at home. Your noble effort to recycle is commendable. Really. But recycling your germs is not!

copyright 2011 Gary T. Czerwinski


Unknown said...

I can tell you've not got the Original Reuseit Earth Totes! I got them in Ann Arbor first and try to replace them as I get rid of the store reusable bags. They're fantastic!

Kitchen Bounty said...

There's nothing sanitary about a recyclable grocery bag. Today I had to deal with yet more--wadded up like dirty laundry. Just amazing.

Anonymous said...

You nailed it Gary !!!!