Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Plastic Bag Princess

I think I'm become one of "those people".

You know how, when you go to someone else's house they say something like, "I should warn you:  Don't pay any attention to the mess in my living room"?   Or when you get in someone's car, they apologize for all the stuff they left on the front passenger seat?   Well, when I go to a friend's house, she'll say, "Just don't look at all these plastic bags!"

Really, I try not to judge other people.  Left to my own devices, I am a No-Trash-wanna-be, but in public I try just as hard to follow the Don't-Drive-Them-Crazy rule, especially with people I love. If you have plastic bags in your house, well, it's your house.

That's why I started to feel an existential angst earlier this week when I came home and saw a plastic bag tied to the handle of my front door.  I want so hard to keep those things away from my own home, but this was a plastic bag gifted to me by the Boy Scouts.  And it was for a food drive.  How do I complain about something like that?  And yet: Plastic Trash tied to MY door knob.  Blecccch.

After a few days of letting the existential angst work its angsty way through my system, I decided I did actually want to kvetch, as nicely as I could.  I hunted around on the web, found the "Director of Programs", and wrote him as nice a nasty-gram as I could. My husband shook his head at me:  "You really are becoming one of THOSE people.  The Program Director is just going to hate you, you know."

And yet.  And yet, a mere 15 minutes later, I got back the following letter:
Thank you for your email.  I very much agree about the bags and am going to advocate for a change next year for a number of reasons including those you gave.  I have brought up the prospect of a change in the past and our volunteers who actually run the drive have shot me down.  I will push harder. Again, thank you.
So.  Huh.  That wasn't really as awful and confrontational as I figured it would be.  In fact, we have since exchanged a few more "way to go" emails on the ecological front. 

For what it's worth, I've pasted in the letter I originally wrote below; I modeled it on Bea Johnson's advice to (a) start with warmth and praise, (b) address the specific problem and why it's a problem, (c) offer a viable solution, and (d) return to (a).  

I should warn you it's not the most articulate letter I've ever written.  (I guess I should urge you to just overlook my mess).

Dear Mr Manner,
I just left this comment on the Food Drive blog, but I wanted to make sure someone in a position of authority gets to see it.  Since you're the Program Director, I hope you are the right person to share this with!
I am not a boy scout (but for many years I was a Girl Scout). I want to thank you very much for the food drive. It’s a wonderful way to help those in need — for example, in my own city, one in four children are food insecure. I know the local food bank really appreciates the extra help you give them! I also think this drive is a wonderful way to teach the scouts about the importance of helping others.
I do have a recommendation to suggest. The plastic bags that you use to request and collect the food detract from the good that you do. When I go out for walks, I see them littering the side of the road where they’ve blown away. Plastic bags are a known source of pollution and environmental hazard (because they’re so light they can be blown far away, and end up endangering sea life, even). For this reason, many locations have banned them from stores.
If your group could switch from plastic bags to paper tags — which people could affix to their own plastic bags, or even tape directly onto boxes of food — this would create a much more ecologically friendly food pickup. (I think that a paper tag would also be much easier to read than the bags, which I have to say, have fairly smudged print.)
Again, thank you for this wonderful service to our community.


  1. I am SO GUILTY of this. I have reusable bags but I literally NEVER remember to take them in with me. I excuse myself because I do use the bags to clean out the litter box daily and my brother works in landscaping in a town that has a plastic grocery bag ban. I give him the bags so he can bag up dog's poop before he mows the lawn and sprays poop all over his clothes. So there's that.

    But I really, really, really need to work on this.

    1. Oh, yeah, the dog poop thing. It is true that in my own household, we've gone to using a small shovel and a poop pit in one corner of the yard. On walks, plastic seems much more sanitary than newspapers.

      But yeah, figuring out a system so the non-plastic bags are there exactly when you need them is a bit of a brain-bender before it becomes habit. My husband has exactly the same issue you do; he's just switched to paper bags, because we use those to hold our recyclable paper and cardboard.

  2. Like Tangerine I continuously forgot to take reusable bags with me; solution? I store them on the back seat of my car so they're with me all the time. I can't bike or walk to the stores I like to shop at, they are 25 - 75 miles away. We all choose to do what we can, when we can. Keep up the good work.

    1. See? That works for you! But keeping the bags in the trunk of our car doesn't work for my husband, because he makes it all the way though the store before he thinks about bags, and by that time he's got a cart full of stuff. You're right that we all do what we can, when we can.

    2. It took me several steps to become good at bringing bags to the store:
      1) get bags
      2) remember to bring them with me from the house to the vehicle
      3) remember to bring them with me from the vehicle to the store
      4) remember to hand them to the cashier.

      Sounds like your husband has step 1 and maybe step 2 down; two more to go!

  3. This is so inspiring me to (politely!) say something when I see things that could be improved upon. You never know when you may be just the push someone needs to make a change.

    plastic bags stuck in trees truly assault my senses. I wish our city would institute a plastic bag ban at stores (though what will we do for dog poop?) we are really good at remembering to bring our reusable bags but we do get circulars and the like left on our stoop in plastic bags that are usually too thin & hole-y for dog waste purposes. blech.

    1. Again, the dog poop. Shovels (in our own yard) work for us, and newspapers (for out and about) can work . . . if the dog poop isn't too gooshy. (Yecch, sorry about the imagery).

      I have known a couple of people who trained their dogs to poop only in their own yards, not in other people's yards. If you think about house training a dog, you might see how this isn't entirely impossible! And it's very funny to see these dogs who are trained to pee on command. "Take a leak!!! Good dog!"

      At any rate, thanks for the "inspiring" pat. I really didn't expect the response I got to be so affirming, so now I'm doubly glad I wrote that letter!

    2. But then I'd have to get a newspaper! In seriousness, that is a good suggestion. I have to walk the poop pretty far to a trashcan, so I like it being well-contained in a bag (urban living) but when its guess I could try a newspaper or other recyclable paper. No yard here, we gotta go for a walk. Its good for our step counts.