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The following is a response to an article I read in the paper today.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/blog/bs-md-bag-ban-20150306-story.html

Ok. I am wondering how many of these politicians who are concerned that the bag ban would adversely affect the poor actually KNOW what it is like to be poor. Let’s not even get into the struggles of living in a food dessert, affordability of quality food, transportation lapses that hinder even getting to a grocery store (an affordable one) or that most folks who may be “adversely affected” don’t make a living wage…

I grew up with few economic advantages (this is for my mom who argues whether or not we were “poor”). Most of the people I knew used reusable bags at the grocery store. They were bigger, sturdier, and could be used for other purposes (like at the laundromat). They were relatively inexpensive and if one was really on their game, these bags could be obtained for free at various events and giveaways. You were really “winning” at life if you could score a few free bags. To this day, I have a thing for bags (not purses, bags). And I’m not alone. I’ll often show up at my mom’s house and she’ll say “where’d you get that bag?”…which means I likely won’t be leaving with it. I have an aunt who, for most of my life, has had jobs that gave away all types of “swag” in the form of bags sometimes. You knew it was a nice bag if you asked “where’d you get that bag” or “nice bag” and Auntie’s quick reply was “NO. You can’t have my bag!” and she’d chuckle. (But depending on how things went, you may get that bag at the end of the day anyway.)

So, poor folks always had reusable bags. Well before recycling became de rigor, poor folks reused the grocery bags. Anyone over a certain age remembers covering books with brown paper bags. I have clear memories of the closet where my grandmother stored the neatly folded paper bags. Later, when the plastic bags came into use, she’d have the grocery clerk “double bag” her groceries. Either paper in paper if the items were heavy, or paper in plastic if the items were cold or wet. If a bag could be used again it was. My husband’s grandmother showed me how to fold plastic grocery bags into tiny rosettes for more effecient storage. These examples of reuse are probably Depression Era habits, but they serve us well. I remember the first time I learned of “recycling” and thinking “Who just throws stuff away!?” I come from a family full of reusers. “Waste not, want not” would go on a family crest if we had one. It is such an ingrained practice that in my own nuclear family we find ourselves saving things “in case” they can be used later. It is an art, not a science…and a slippery slope to clutter and hoarding. But I digress…

It is not my place to judge what people spend their money on. But seriously, if you smoke or drink sodas regularly, you can afford the one time expense of buying a few reuseable bags. It is a bit of a hassle, sure. I often don’t remember to bring my bags into the store (even though I keep them in the trunk of my car!) Then when I am in line, I am either too lazy or it is too inconvenient for me to go out to the car and get them. But I am going to reuse the plastic bags anyway, so why not take them? Also, I don’t litter. My bags are always in my possesion or contained.

I doubt the bag debate has as much to do with concerns for the poor as it does for the concerns of politics and not making voters angry enough to remember this small slight and not pay attention to the really big ones that truly hurt the economically disadvantaged.

And let’s not forget the other aspects. There is little industry support for this ban on plastic grocery bags. Stores advertise on those bags. Union workers make those bags. Another group of workers make the machines that make those bags. Even people who clean up litter are helped (in an ironic way) by those bags.

I don’t doubt that in the long run, our planet is cleaner without all of these plastic grocery bags. Especially my city which seems to be a mess of bags along curbs and in trees. (Note: this seems to be more prevalent in some neighborhoods than others and that is a whole ‘nuther conversation.) But can being a good steward of the Earth really be legislated? Some would say yes. I’m not sure. If the bill passes, it will mean I’ll be forced to remember to bring my bags into the store. That is a good thing, certainly. Don’t be threatened if I see you and ask “where’d you get that bag”. 🙂

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