Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1 buck per plastic bag

In an ideal world or at least in a far better world, this would be the charge.

So that every customer at the cash desk would think twice if a disposable bag would be really indispensable.

This is not the case at home (where a plastic bag costs 9-15 euro cents) but at least one has to pay there to get a bag in the grocery stores. Which fortunately is enough incentive to opt out. I don't know a territory where reusable bags are more appreciated than in Germany. The adoration for cotton bags goes so far that at art fairs, gallery weekends and fashion weeks in Berlin, in other words at those events with the maximum concentration of designer-wear-people, cotton bags have become the key accessory.

I came to the U.S. for the first time and with the general understanding that conditions here would play tough with ecologically conscious people. But as
an innovative country, this is also the realm of Al Gore's movie, Summer Rayne Oake's style guide, the concept of carbon footprint. After all, N.Y.C. was said not to be like the rest of the U.S. so I hoped for the better.

It proved out as bad as in every current preconception and experiencing the waste problem day after day turned out to be far more frustrating than only hearing about it:

  • when I returned a dozen of beer bottles to the vendor in the assumption that they would be industrially cleaned and reused, the same kind shopkeeper from 24 hours before turned me down with contempt.
  • when you buy 200g ramen for lunch, it is served in a heavy plastic bucket together with a heavy lid, a plastic bowl of kimchi, a plastic lid for that, a plastic spoon, a pair of chopsticks, 4 sheets of napkins and a plastic bag (feels like 1 kg of waste). Although you eat the noodles right away in the deli.
  • indoor rooms are so violently heated that despite of minus degrees, you sleep with open windows. (Regarding the fact that most walls in New York are old and leaky, so that you need more energy to moderately heat a room, you don't want to imagine how much is needed to overheat a room...). I have witnessed several girls with circulation problems because of constantly overheated rooms (though one must admit that beyond the German-speaking world this disease doesn't exist :) ).
  • a complete business buffet can be served in disposables so that afterward remained food and setting likewise can be tossed in a (plastic) trash bag.
  • coffee shops that only serve in paper cups are the reason why I drastically reduced my daily caffeine consumption during the week. During weekends I seek places that serve in porcelain.
  • shared kitchens are completely stocked with disposable dishes and cutlery although there is a dishwasher...
This post might sound snotty, as if there aren't bigger things to worry about. True is that few things upset me more in everyday life than the brainless consumption of resources and the production of waste (throwing away food ranks equally). So that is one of the few things that really drives me nuts here.

Apart from the environmental issue the aesthetic and health aspect are not to be neglected. Eating and drinking out of PVC is not only poor in style but is also harmful for the body (according to public health authorities). Even if you have paid 12 $ for say, some salad leaves, avocado and shrimps, it somehow feels like junk food when it is packed in vinyl.

And let it be pointed out - coffee-to-go in a papercup is so not cool though American mass franchises promote the opposite. Can you imagine a stylish Milanese / an elegant Parisian drinking their espressi out of PVC? If they do it by now, blame this decline in style to the aforementioned franchises.

But since this blog should administer positive thoughts not negative ones, here are my personal tips to resist insane waste consumption:

i) Never take a plastic bag. Keep in mind that you will never be asked in this matter so you must reject ultra-fast.

ii) Always carry a reusable bag with you. If you are like me, you never plan to shop but you end up doing it.

iii) If you miss point ii) still don't take a plastic bag unless it is physically impossible to carry your purchase with both hands away.

iv) If point iii) is not feasible reuse your new plastic bag with care and as long as it is whole (should last at least for a month). If it gets dirty, wash it out.

v) Point iv) can be generalized:
Never throw away things that still serve its purpose or can be fixed. Avoid to buy things for short or temporary use.

vi) After having internalized maxims i)-iv) and having fostered a healthy hatred towards disposables, you will be ready for the most courageous act:
  • get yourself a pretty tumbler and let it be filled in the coffee shop. Though think twice beforehand if you can't afford the luxury to enjoy a coffee to stay.
  • bring your own tupperware when grabbing food outside.
  • carry your own cuttlery when eating out.
  • when dish-washing afterwards don't screw up the eco-balance by wasting too much water.
These points might sound freaky but the efforts will be rewarding. Even if you look nuts when carrying your purchase at hand, bear in mind that some minutes of inconvenience will save a plastic bag that will last on the planet forever. Isn't that tempting??

Finally, don't hesitate to ask for further tips if these aren't helpful in your case! I've reflected much on this regard and we can discuss a solution :)


  1. Tach Su! Nachdem wir heute schon bei Claus gelacht haben, wollte ich doch mal gucken, was du so machst :-) Daumen hoch für den Bericht, ich wühle mich weiter durch.

    Liebe Grüße

  2. Hallo Jutta :) habe irgendwie die Kommentarfunktion bei dir nicht gefunden. Ja, habe wortlos bei vielen von Euch alten Bloggerhasen mitgelesen und bei dir besonders das Familien-Kochbuch bestaunt. Grüße zurück!