I don’t need a bag!

After spending a great vacation in the without doubt fascinating Sunshine State Florida there is one impression that stays in my mind as equally persistent as all the beautiful beaches and endless palm trees do. Plastic bags. Each time that I left a Walmart, Publix or Walgreens (you could probably put many other big American superstores here, but those are the only ones I actually did buy something at and therefor experienced the following story by myself) my “environmental self” felt deeply ashamed.

You can see a picture of how our shopping cart looked like almost every time after we went shopping (to give you all the facts: I went on this trip together with my  family, so what you see there is food for three adults, enough for about 3 to 4 days). Of course, there are ways to avoid taking so many plastic bags, you could say that you don’t need any, but American superstores really don’t make it easy for their costumers do so. Or at least, it is very easy to take that many plastic bags with you. And that makes me worry. At Walmarts for example, the tellers, if you don’t ask them to not do so, automatically put your groceries into one-way plastic bags. There is not even any kind of tray behind the cash box that would allow you to take your stuff by yourself and put it into your shopping cart directly, without using a bag. Non-food products go into extra bags and heavy bottles might be even put into two bags to make them more solid.

Of course, there are different systems of stores and maybe I’m just not used to that kind of “service”, because in Germany you have to pay for every single plastic bag you take on a grocery, but that still makes me worry. People who are used to such a high consumption of plastic bags might not think about the effect they have on their environment.

Worldwide 500 billion up to one trillion plastic bags are being used every year. According to reusethisbag.com, in 2010, 380 billion of those were used in the United States. I don’t want to blame the USA alone with this article, there are countries in which the ignorance of environmental pollution is much worse. But such a wealthy and big country as the U.S. should be one of the first countries to take a step in the right direction. Especially one- way plastic bags, as those being used at the big supermarkets, kill thousands of sea animals and birds every year. For the production of every plastic bag, mineral oil is being used, which means that CO2 is being emitted. All this is not really helpful for Obamas 2009s plan to cut down Americas CO2 emissions by 83 % until 2050 (American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009).

Millions of Americans go shopping at super stores every day and I am afraid that the majority of them doesn’t surrender the service of having their groceries put into handy bags. There are plastic bag bans starting to spread over the States and I think that this is a really great development. But until every state government has understood the importance of such a change, everybody should ask her/himself if another plastic bag is really needed and maybe say “Thanks, I don’t need a bag!” more often.

Carolin Grüning



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