Bag Lady

As of today, the City of Toronto requires all retailers to charge 5 cents for a plastic bag. Paper bags that do not have plastic handles or grommets are exempt.

Many grocery stores have charged for bags for years so most people are in the habit of bringing their own bags, backpacks or carts – or picking up a cardboard box at the checkout. I have no issue with this practice; for grocery shopping I am a hard-core bag bringer – my pair of tired old cotton twill bags from the Hudson’s Bay Company date back to 1991. I will undoubtedly shed a tear when they give up the ghost, mostly because the handles are the perfect length.

But while I am a bag-bringer, I am not normally a bag-carrier. That is, I don’t keep an extra bag tucked into a purse or pocket for those last minute or impulse purchases. I should. I will have to start, but part of me is still rebelling. I am a bag-refuser – if I can tuck a purchase into a purse, backpack or another bag, I absolutely do. But remembering and carrying an empty bag can be an inconvenience, and unplanned purchases can start racking up the bag charges pretty quickly. And how is it fair that someone like me, who over the past two decades has likely kept thousands of bags out of the landfills and oceans, should be treated the same as those folks who would never bother to use a reusable bag until they are forced to?

It’s not as if I don’t have plenty of reusable bags. One of the perks of my job is the occasional bag of gifts and swag and they almost always come in a reusable bag now. I’ve taken to leaving them in the laundry room for my neighbours, I have so many.

The kicker came today – first day of the ban. I was at a local drugstore chain buying a bottle of water (also evil, apparently) and a box of allergy medication. Both easily fit into my purse, but the cashier said, “If you spend another $1.50, you get a free reusable bag!” I looked as she gestured to a rack of those awful square bags (ironically, also made out of some kind of woven plastic) brightly branded with the store’s logo. Beside the fact that I don’t need yet another reusable bag, especially a hard-to-fold ugly plastic one (fabric ones fold more easily and can be washed – negating the plastic industry’s dire warning that we’re all going to die of salmonella from dirty reusable bags), I certainly don’t need a bag that massive for one little box of pills.

This bylaw is confusing and inconvenient and never at any point addressed the fact that many people reuse plastic grocery bags for garbage or other items (I use mine to freeze bread, then use them again to pick up dog poo). Now people will have to spend extra money on garbage bags – that will clog up the landfill just as grocery bags do – and buy plastic bags when they need them. On top of that, stores are already cashing in on the bylaw by trying to force useless and unnecessary bags on their customers – if they make a minimum purchase.

I see a lot of stores making money on this bylaw. I can also see that pile of plastic bags every family has under their kitchen sink replaced with an even more unweildy pile of reusable bags (still made of plastic!). What I don’t see is any great improvement to the environment.