Under the Sun
Bagging on plastic, but not when it’s necessary
Plump Ambrosia apples rolled up against Maui onions, bumping them from their tracks on the conveyer belt that advanced my groceries into the clerk's reach.
After weighing the onions and logging their price, she deftly slipped them into a plastic bag before pushing them down the counter.
"No need bag," I said, shaking the onions loose. She nodded, but did the same with the apples.
"No need," I said again.
"Oh," she said, laughing. "Hard to break a habit."
At the end of the counter, the bagger tried to untangle the handles on the totes I'd handed him. A few seconds into his struggle, I pulled them free and stretched them over the metal prongs that held the market's stash of plastic bags. That way, loading the stuff into cloth would be almost as easy as packing the plastic.
He mumbled "thanks." Still, the frustration of dealing with the unfamiliar was evident, and I wouldn't blame him for judging me and my totes a pain in the patootie. But I'm not the only one.
In the past year or so since I began annoying baggers by BYOB-ing, I've noticed many shoppers doing the same. In fact, as my Star-Bulletin colleague Nina Wu reported last Sunday, Hawaii is catching up with the totes-as-fashion-statement fad that had seized eco-chic-conscious urban areas like New York City where during the holiday season fancy department store shopping bags became recyclable de rigueur.
There are sure to be more even if proposals to ban plastic bags in two Hawaii counties don't become laws, because BYOB-ing isn't hard to do. Most people already have reusable bags around the house -- net sacks they use for hauling beach gear to Ala Moana, the gaudy ones they got in Vegas to bring back the beef jerky omiyage.
I'm not sure how much of an effect banning non-biodegradable and nonrecyclable plastic bags will have on overall environmental health. But lots of energy and oil-based ingredients do go into making them and using fewer will no doubt help. Plus, they foul up the ocean and litter the landscape. I don't know how many times I've had to retrieve a flapper snagged on crust of lava, spoiling the grey-black field with its whiteness, or chase down a kiter floating over a parking lot.
Plastic sacks, like bad taste, are ubiquitous. Billions of products are packaged in them, from a set of hinges and kitchen sponges to organic oat groats and fresh ogo. Which is not to say they aren't practical. They keep syringes sterile and protect newspapers from the rain.
They should be used when necessary, which is what I told the young man behind me at the checkout.
I guess he was a hard-line plastic and paper shunner because he refused to put his half-dozen raisin bagel bars in a bag or wrap them in the wax paper sheets the store provided. Instead, he plopped five of the bars directly on the conveyer -- the sixth was between his teeth. Pointing to my leaking package of raw chicken thighs just inches away, I said, "Need bag."
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org