California’s Plastic Bag Ban


plastic-bag-be-green-1Today in California, our former-turned-reelected governor Jerry Brown signed a law that will ban the use of plastic bags in grocery stores next year, with convenience stores and pharmacies following suit in 2016. The idea behind the ban seems to be twofold: reducing litter and saving the environment.

That’s fine and well even though I’m not a tree-hugging hippie.

But what I am is someone who works in a grocery store who has a few stories to tell and some points to consider, so let me go ahead and break stuff down for you.

Nobody Can Remember The Ban
My fair city has had the plastic bag ban in effect for at least three years. That said, you would think that consumers would have already gotten used to bringing their own reusable bags into the store with them.

Nope. I’d say that around nearly half of our customers can’t seem to remember that the law was passed back in 2011 and therefore, have no reusable bags to put their groceries in. At that point, we have to ask if they would like to purchase paper bags (10 cents each), a reusable plastic bag (16 cents each), or even one of our reusable bags that sell anywhere from 99 cents to $4 depending on the material they are made from. They also have the option of using free boxes ala Costco should we have any on hand but those can be clumsy and not easy to carry.

Unless they are using the free boxes, their total goes up by however many bags they purchase and believe me, I hear about it. I know of one customer in particular who is absolutely adamant about not buying any kind of bag and when you ask him if he would like to, he goes on a diatribe that runs the gamut: unions, local government, Illuminati, you name it. He would rather die than spend pocket change for one bag – his exact words, not mine. I’ve since remembered his face and know not to ask him anymore but this is just one of the many negative responses we get.

Some Simply Don’t Know
There are cities surrounding the one I call home that have not yet banned plastic bags and on occasion, we get customers from those cities (or out of state, for that matter) shopping at my store. When asked if they need bags, the response is usually the same.

“Oh shit, that’s right. I’m in Long Beach.”

That quote implies that even those out of the city know about the ban yet most within the city don’t. Go figure.

Then there are those visiting or on vacation from other states or countries who look at you with strange eyes if you ask them if they would like bags. The expressions on their faces could be easily translated into, “Well duh, I want bags. This is a grocery store, isn’t it?” Then when we give the spiel about our city not using plastic bags, the reaction is almost always the same: “Well, that’s stupid.”

Sorry, not my idea. Write a letter to City Hall.

A Bacterial Hotbed
As I said, some customers remember to bring their reusable bags which is fine and well. (An aside: if you have reusable bags, put them on the conveyor belt before your groceries so that we have something to put them in. Otherwise, I will start bagging your stuff in paper or plastic bags that we will charge you for, or just let your items pile up until I get your bags. Thanks.) But just because they’ve brought in reusable bags doesn’t mean that they are being exclusively for groceries – or clean for that matter.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff inside bags while filling them with groceries: dirty clothing, used paper towels or facial tissues, receipts, toys, foodstuffs, etc. But the fun is only beginning.

I’ve also put groceries in bags that were moldy, dirty, smelly, covered with blood stains from leaking packages of meat, and, perhaps the worst of all, one that smelled like the customer’s cat urinated inside of it. Granted, we’re not there to pass judgment or give opinions but after bagging the items in this particular bag I had to walk away to get some fresh air and wash my hands. It was utterly disgusting. The customer didn’t seem to mind the smell at all as they grabbed their stuff and left, all smiles.

And just think: grocery store baggers are sticking their hands into these bacteria-infested bags for the sake of a few measly bucks, exposing themselves to who knows what the hell is inside those bags. Yes, it’s a minimum-wage job. Only those who have dedicated their lives to working in such an environment are making what one would consider good money. I fall into the former category, not the latter.

So yeah, most customers don’t wash their bags which is disgusting considering that food is going into them. They just let the funk of 40,000 years continue to fester inside them.

Shoplifting Is Harder to Determine
If a customer doesn’t want to pay for a bag or use a box, then chances are they will walk out of the store either carrying their items or rolling them out in a shopping cart. It’s an everyday occurrence, especially for the people who work in the offices behind the store. The problem here is that a customer who is carrying their items or is rolling them out of the store in a cart looks exactly the same as a thief who just picked up an item off the shelf or filled their cart with things and is leaving the store. It’s become so common to see it happening that it’s harder to determine who’s a shoplifter and who isn’t, and we can’t accuse anyone of anything unless we know for sure. In short, stuff can just walk out the door and we’d have no clue if it was paid for or not.

And you know what happens when stuff starts getting stolen from stores, don’t you? That’s right: prices go up and everybody pays for it.

The plastic bag ban may solve a few issues but knowing what I know, it opens up a gigantic, smelly can of worms at the same time.

(By the way, I never voted for Jerry Brown. I was too young the first time and wiser the second time.)

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