Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saying "No Thanks" to Bags

Dear Em,
When I was in college, I was ready to change the world. I was going to make a difference & make it fast. Then I got out into the real world & bureaucracy, red tape, & politics overwhelmed me. It's not that I can't change the world. It's not that anyone can't. It's just not as easy as you think it is when you're 20 years old. Plus, in the last 10 years, little victories have become bigger victories to me. I mean, I give myself a round of applause if I get the laundry cleaned, folded, & put away in less than 24 hours.

Back to college...I had taken an honors course about sustainability and the environment. Three of my friends and I were fired up. We were inspired. To finish the honors program, we had to complete an independent study. Our study was centered around sustainability in Rhode Island, & we took a four pronged approach. There are so many ways as Rhode Islanders that we could be more sustainable, but my group proposed four methods. First, we researched composting the food scraps that came from the URI dining halls to cut down on the waste we were contributing to the community. Another area we looked at was the Rhode Island education system. We researched how much sustainability was part of the core curriculum & proposed bringing more into Rhode Island's classrooms. The thought was that it won't be about making better sustainable choices of its embedded into our education from the beginning. Then it's just a way of life. Our last proposal was bringing a bag tax to Rhode Island in hopes that if we cut down on bags, we'd be eliminating more waste. Our ideas were presented in a website with other helpful information that could be used as a resource for Rhode Islanders who were interested in being sustainable. There weren't many "think green" websites back then, & we could see that this was the future of how people would look for (paperless) information.

I was once so inspired, & yet our project hasn't even crossed my mind much in the past ten years (to be honest, I forgot what some of the components of our project even were). Instead, my thoughts were consumed with getting married, buying a house, having & raising a child, & balancing it all while excelling at my job. I'm not sure where any of our proposals even went. I honestly have no idea what happened to our website or if it even still exists (although, it looks like other sites have taken it's place). I'm not sure what they're doing in Rhode Island's classrooms to promote sustainability (I'm sure I'll find out when you start kindergarten in a few years). I had hope when I read an article this past summer that indicated URI is still considering the compost process (as well as other sustainability initiatives). But, we still don't have a bag tax in Rhode Island. 

And then I traveled to San Francisco.

Rhode Island may not have a bag tax, but San Francisco does. As we purchased things, we were asked if we wanted a bag. If we did, we were charged 10 cents per bag. It's nothing that breaks the bank. 10 bags= $1. For me, it was more about having the option of saying "no thanks" to bags. I actually had a moment to think, "Do I really need this bag?" before accepting it.

I guess I do have the option of saying "no thanks" to bags in Rhode Island, but it actually kind of stresses me out. When I go shopping at the mall, the shopping bags are marketing reminders that tell everyone else at the mall "Hey, look! I shopped there." Typically during one shopping trip I could fit all of my purchases into one bag, but I feel almost guilty when I tell sales clerks I don't need a bag. It's like I'm saying "I don't want people to know that I shopped here." In other situations like drug stores, I don't need a bag for my small purchases but the sales clerk has my tiny item in a bag before I've even paid. I just feel like a pain to say "Yeah, I don't need that bag" & asking them to take it out. I know it's mostly in my head, but saying "no thanks" to bags just makes me feel guilty.

In San Francisco, I can't even tell you how nice it was to be asked if I wanted a bag. I think I only said yes once. In fact, your Aunt Andrea & I spent an afternoon shopping & she thought I hadn't bought anything because instead of buying a bag I just carried my items in my purse (which to be honest, felt slightly weird. I was worried people would peer into my purse & think I was stealing).

I wonder how much waste is saved in San Francisco simply by asking people if they want a bag? How much waste could be saved if the whole world followed suit? Who knows, maybe our group of four hasn't given up. Maybe we just haven't finished yet. Maybe someday we'll see our honors project proposals come to life in Rhode Island. I would hope it would happen beforehand, but it's possible that it will be our kids bringing our proposals to life. You never know.

I love you so,

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