Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BYOB -- Bring Your Own Bag!

We all know how important it is to bring reusable cloth bags to the grocery store. I would add a bunch of statistics here for anyone not convinced of the truthfulness of this statement, but, quite frankly, I got depressed when researching it. If you're skeptical, google it yourself.

For quite a long time, I’ve been using cloth grocery bags. They were 99 cents each, are made from recycled materials and stay in the car for easy use. This is a wonderful process when you go to Whole Foods, Publix or our local co-op. They like when you bring your own bags; they praise and encourage you to do so; sometimes they even give small cash rebates for each bag you bring in. Unfortunately, there are a number of stores that may sell reusable cloth grocery bags (cha-ching for them), but discourage their actual use. A number of the clerks are less than pleasant – rolling their eyes, sighing and otherwise looking frustrated when you ask they forgo the cheap, but easy-because-they’re-familiar, plastic bags from Hell. Consequently, I bag my own at the stores with self checkout lines. Even this option is usually not user friendly. While I avoid crabby store clerks, I usually have to deal with a machine not designed for eco-friendly bags. I can't bag directly into my cloth bags because the scale senses "something" I haven't paid for when I put my bag there. So I have to scan the item, set it on the scale, and then transfer the item to my bag. Publix and Winn Dixie both have "use my own bag" options on their scanners so the scale accommodates the cloth bag, but other stores do not.

When I have to deal with the clerks because there are no self checkout lines, at the first sign of huffing and puffing and eye rolling, I offer to bag the groceries myself. Plus, clerks in stores are so fond of putting just three items in a bag and taking another because to actually pack a grocery bag well would require time, skill or, at the bare minimum, common sense. I don't have 20 cloth bags; I only have 8 which is more than enough for a month's worth of groceries if packed correctly. Further, even though the clerks complain about how hard it is to bag with cloth bags, when I do the work for them, they still are rude. So even though I am doing half their work by bagging my own groceries, and even though they admit it takes a little more time, they are unbelievably inconsiderate. They push the groceries off the belt as fast as possible. They don't care if the groceries go on the floor – and often they do. Obviously, they can't check out the next person until I'm done, so what good does it do to fling groceries as fast as possible, even when there's no room to stack them? Add to this the fact that I rarely shop after 7:30 a.m. so there’s usually not a line behind me anyway. I put my groceries on the belt in a logical order (all cold foods together, all canned goods, etc.) so it's not as though my lack of organization is a problem. Further, I usually have my mother with me so we can move “double time”.

I honestly don’t think many of the clerks are simply clueless -- I get the distinct impression they're deliberately trying to make it difficult to deter us. They have the attitude that says, “I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this. If you’re going to force me, I’m going to make it as miserable for you as possible.” Lest you think I’m paranoid, one time I encountered an associate at a big box store who supported my theory. She helped me with an error on the self-check out and commented how she hates the self checkout machines. I said, "Me, too, but I use them whenever I can because I have my own bags." She asked why and I told her I couldn't handle the attitude I get from the clerks. Her response was, "So what! We have a lot of people who bring their own bags. They have to learn to DEAL WITH IT. I know they don't want to, but they should and they will. Go through their lines and make them!" Further, when I’ve mentioned such problems to the staff at Whole Foods and our local co-op, I drew actual crowds of people agreeing their experience has been the same.

So, what’s a girl to do?! Well, I wrote a lengthy e-mail to corporate headquarters of the anti-eco-bag stores and told them of my problems. I stressed that education of their clerks is critical since (I pray) the reusable cloth bag revolution is here to stay and growing every day (please, please, please). I received telephone calls from the local managers of a number of the stores about whom I wrote. I’m going to give it some time, but so far, so good. I’ve only been shopping once since then (I grocery shop a month at a time) and my experience was wonderful! We’ll see if it was that particular clerk, a fluke, or if, indeed, the stores are educating their employees. Time will tell. I encourage you to write as well. Given the phone calls I received and the concern in the managers’ voices, they are listening. If enough of us complain, it’s bound to trickle down to the individual employees.

P.S. Please don’t write and yell at me about how hard store clerks work, how much abuse is heaped on them by unreasonable customers, etc. I know and I agree. Completely. But the point is, our environment is as stake and they need to do their jobs well, just as I do mine and you do yours.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I get the rolling of the eyes all the time. One clerk told me, at Target, that he was not "authorized" to pack my own bag. I spoke to his manager who told me that was misinformation. I have since gone back and insist that they do their job and pack it. How else will they get used to the idea?

    Check out: www.BagRevolution.com

  2. Interesting for sure. We've been using our own bags for years in Oregon and get little flack. Might be the area. At any rate, we all need to do what we feel is right and others will jump on board.

    Now we've taken a step further with our bags and found a site that supplies cotton cloth bags for bulk food and produce also. These bags work great, you might want to give them a try or at least check out the blog and/or website.

    BzzBags.com is the website and bzzbags.blogspot.com is the blog. Good stuff.

    And don't let anyone's point of view deter you. Everyone's got a point of view - like I said, just keep doing what you feel is right and best.