Plastic Bag Ban Adventures, Coming Soon to a Store Near You

Read about this blogger's epic adventures and harrowing experiences during Santa Cruz County's plastic bag ban and paper bag surcharge that began earlier this year.

Hang on Watsonville, you are going to begin the much debated plastic bag ban in September. Are you ready? Where I live, which is an unincorporated part of Santa Cruz County, it already went into effect on March 20, 2012. I thought I would share my own harrowing tales and crazy experiences.

Harrowing? Is it really that bad? Well, no. It really isn’t so hard once you get used to it and I am happy that I am doing my part. But, I found some very interesting things along the way, and believe it or not, quite a bit of drama too. Though it may not have been an adventure of epic proportions, it has been an adventure nonetheless. There is more to this than remembering to bring reusable bags, there is a psychological side that neither citizen nor city council member could have ever imagined. It is shame and guilt, also coming to a store near you.

This is the tale of two cities, let’s just call them City A and City B. Both of these cities have the same popular chain grocery store. However, one of them is affected by the bag ban and the other is not. 

I went off to Store A one day shortly after the ban came into effect. I moved merrily along with my cart full of groceries. Suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks with a jolt of fear rippling through my body as dark reality set in. I found myself exclaiming “NOOOOOO!!!” as I gave my forehead a face-palming slap. My fellow shoppers standing nearby were startled by my outcry. Although, it didn’t take long before their look of fear changed to one of knowing, and then further on to one of pure shame.

I…forgot…my… reusable…bags.

As I stood in line, I looked at my fellow shoppers who had neatly folded bags in their carts and glanced at their responsible and healthy foods. I became suddenly aware of my own full cart that contained a few things that were less than healthy to say the least. I felt like my cart had a big red flashing arrow overhead telling all shoppers to notice the loser in Checkout 5.

I tried to look nonchalant and responsible as I flipped through a healthy cooking magazine hoping to improve my tarnished image. I considered whether I might need a support group for chronic bag forgetters. I felt so alone.

When I approached the checkout counter, the cashier asked me if I would like to buy a paper bag (or 10), for a dime apiece.  She might as well have announced it over the loud speaker as people stopped in their tracks to watch my reply. “Yes,” I replied with a hushed tone as she counted the bags I would need all my neighbors watched. The bagging clerk thought he would do me a favor by putting as much into each bag as possible in an effort to reduce my cost. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized he had put the chicken in with the strawberries, which despite being wrapped in a legal plastic meat bag, had leaked through the paper bag and all over the floor of my car. The two pounds of lovely organic strawberries I had bought had to be thrown away. (Notice how I just had to mention that they were organic?) Salmonella strawberries were not on my list. I guess there is a learning curve to all of this.

It really is okay to charge me for that extra bag when it comes to putting meat in with other food. Really, I promise.

Shortly after the ordinance went into effect, I found myself stocking my car with reusable bags. I was so proud of myself for being so prepared!  I made a system. I will just put the bags by the door when I am done unloading the groceries and I will just take them to the car the next time I leave. Easy peasy.  Okay, let me just admit right now that those original bags I put by the door are still there almost four months later, and they are a bit dusty. I know I sound very irresponsible. Shame on me.

By the way, just to let you know, I shop for a houseful of people. I am actually talking about bringing a cart load of bags in before I even shop. I am trying to think of an invention that attaches to the front of the cart that could carry all of my bags so I have room for groceries. But in the meantime, my first step before I begin inventing things is to actually remember to put the bags in the car before I leave the house. 

A week or so later, I was out doing errands, and decided it was also a convenient time to do my weekly shopping. It hit me once again, “Duh!” I forgot my bags. But then, I did something so sneaky and underhanded, it was downright unforgiveable. I drove right past my closest chain grocery store and on to, you guessed it, Store B, which is in the next city 10 minutes away. No bag ban, no surcharge. I can say I did it for the sheer fact of not wanting meat juice in my strawberries, but we all know it had more to do with that imaginary red flashing arrow over my cart.

Feeling guilty, I soon found out I was not alone. I saw a woman driving through the parking lot, looking desperate to find information. She was stopping people on their way in and asking them each a question. I thought she wanted directions to get to the nearest Starbucks, since there are only two of them located on this block. However, when she drove by me, she stopped and asked “Do they charge for bags here?” I told her that they didn’t charge for them and they had both plastic and paper. Her eyes flew open wide and she said “Really, they have plastic too!!” She gave a heavy sigh of relief and parked her car with a flash. She was as happy as a person who had found water after being in a desert for a week. She wiped the sweat off her brow, and gave me her heartfelt thanks. I thought she would hug me. I felt that I had just saved her life. Feeling happy to have helped someone so much, it dawned on me that I hadn’t really saved her, I had just supported her bag addiction and I was on my way to join her.

As I was standing in line, I heard a customer ask the cashier why they still had plastic bags. The clerk explained that this particular city hadn’t yet voted on the plastic bag ban ordinance, so for now they still had plastic as well as paper for free, just how it had always been. With a resounding “Woohoo!” and a round of applause from most people within earshot, I thought the clerk might need to stand up on her counter and take a bow. She had just become a local hero. Curious, I asked the cashier if she thought people were coming there just for their bags. She nodded, and leaned forward in a whisper and told me that she had never seen customers so happy.  “It’s the bags…”

People are very interesting, indeed.

Check back Tuesday for . Valerie has some advice on how to conquer the plastic bag ban without paying the bag surcharge.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Connie Hernandez July 17, 2012 at 03:23 PM
I haven't enjoyed reading an article as much as this one in a very long time. Great writing. Connie Hernandez, Watsonvlle
Valerie Lemke July 17, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Thank you Connie!
Paula Reuschling July 22, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Great article, Valerie. And (unfortunately) so true!
Daniel Anderson August 06, 2012 at 04:41 AM
An easy to read yet thought-provoking piece. Save the environment or save your sanity? To sound more profound, perhaps more than the content, the article seems to highlight that sometimes it's hard to do the right thing even when we know it.
Jennifer Squires September 06, 2012 at 07:41 PM
Bring your reusable bags shopping tomorrow and say adios to plastic bags. http://watsonville.patch.com/articles/7-facts-about-the-single-use-bag-ban


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