Mar 21, 2016

Why I'm grateful I care about plastic bags

I had a realization tonight that I am really fortunate in my life that I can have and take the opportunity to care about plastic bags. I reminded me of things my husband has said about Monsanto. He says that Americans can boycott Monsanto and think they are evil because we have such an abundance of food. In countries where people are literally starving to death, the crops they make are lifesavers. I quickly saw parallels to these sentiments and Maslow's hierarchy of needs. 

Maslow's hierarchy of needs has 5 steps: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. It argues that each need must be fulfilled before really being able to move on to the next. Physiological needs relate to food and shelter. I might argue that forbidding the use of plastic bags or trying to minimize plastic waste for the global good would fall under the highest need; that of self actuation. Self actuation is where you try to live life according to our highest principles and strongest desires. "What a man can be, he must be" Maslow wrote about self actuation.


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs by FireflySixtySeven

Let me try and illustrate it with a recent example from my own life. I arrived in Florida about six weeks before my husband to start my full time job. I was in a new town where I knew only a few people, starting a new job, apart from my husband, and 'camping' at my friend’s house. I call it camping, because while I was able to stay at my friend's house, all she had left was a bed. I was able to bring some of my own stuff, but space was limited so I basically brought along a card table, four folding chairs, four piece settings, some pots and pans, and my clothes. During this time when I had very little of my creature comforts I frequently relied on prepared food from the grocery store. Cut up fruit, bagged salad, and frozen chicken breasts all wrapped in plastic. To me the convenience of it was far more important than the environmental impact.

It wasn't until I got more comfortable in my surroundings, and read up more about the plastic free movement, that my eyes were opened to the environmental impact of the decisions I was making. I desired to make a change. But a lot of it took time and resources I just didn't have while 'camping'. Sure, I used my reusable bag while grocery shopping, but I couldn't grow a garden to prevent getting vegetables wrapped in plastic. And yes, I did an impromptu beach cleanup, but I couldn't start a compost bin for my veggie scraps. Now some of it was just excuses, but it could also be argued that my more basic needs weren't being met as readily.  

Reading blogs about people using less plastic and having zero waste helped to encourage me and show me options beyond the usual. But I was fortunate to have the time to find and explore those resources. People with busier lives, either through necessity or choice may not have the same time to devote to the information. This is why we need to make the choice with the greatest benefit the easiest choice. 

Right now automatically bagging everything in plastic bags is the easiest choice. You don't even have to talk to the cashier or bagger and it will happen. But what happens if we make that switch be paper bags? What happens when people have reusable bags that are easy to use? I would assume if you are reading this you are at a point in your life where you can afford the luxury of caring about the planet. So what are you doing to show your gratitude? 


  1. This is a great post that I think kind of touches upon this question we talk about in the zero waste community of "is zero waste accessible for people of different socioeconomic statuses". I mean the biggest mainstream icons for the movement are Laura singer and bea Johnson who are both middle/upper middle class, white/European women. Personally, I think that that there are two sides to that. On one hand, in order to make things trendy, it usually starts from richer "higher" standing people before making its way to the mainstream- with those people making it mainstream for everyone else. On the other hand, the original environmental movement in 1970 was widely accepted and embraced in the US (and widely across classes and other divides). To me, my goal is kind of the latter. Instead of per say, me getting everyone to buy in bulk or spend the extra cash on the sustainable items, a general awareness of issues can at the very least help avoid over consumption and increase recycling, alongside doing what you mentioned of just using our privledge of time and energy to help make these things more accessible for everyone regardless of if they have the opportunity to really delve into the issues. Of course, I am honing in on the US here since our overall quality of life is higher. The conversation of other countries responsibilities versus ours is probably an entire thesis somewhere!

    1. Thank you! Your perspective of spreading awareness and making it accessible to everyone is sort of why I started SkipTheBag. Not everyone can get the law changed, but anyone can refuse a plastic bag (plastic bag bans are illegal in Florida). And I'd be curious to see which nations create the most waste. I'm guessing the US is up there if not leading.