So, Earth Day. Earth Week. All those glossy magazines with their “green” issues. (Not on recycled paper, and what about all those environmentally unfriendly Town Cars idling at the Condé Nast curb? But whatever.) Siggy cups instead of plastic bottles. We try to be good. We tell cashiers, “Oh, that’s O.K., I don’t need a bag.” Only to be met with astonishment.
Often, New Yorker consumers are finding, one has to practically wrest one’s purchases from store employees’ hands.
Jennifer Corson, a teacher who was searching for the bag-recycling station at the Park Slope Food Co-op on a recent Sunday, said her use of reusable sacks tends to prompt a fair amount of eye-rolling. Recently, she said, she’d bought a sweater for her 10-year-old son at Macy’s. But telling the cashier she didn’t need a bag apparently so disrupted the ingrained checkout routine that the cashier forgot to take off the security tag. When Ms. Corson walked out the door, the alarm started blaring.
“They need to have a protocol,” Ms. Corson said, sounding frustrated. “I felt like I was penalized … because it wasn’t part of the routine. When, really, they should be changing their routine.”
Many stores are trying. Whole Foods stopped offering plastic bags in its stores on Earth Day, April 22. Other places have started selling reusable bags near the checkout counters, à la Europe. For a while this year, The New York Times was offering a free D’Agostino tote—very 1978—with the purchase of a Sunday Times. For the consumerist-environmentalist, an annoying breed that is popping up everywhere, there are those “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” Anya Hindmarch totes ($20 on eBay), and the “I’m Not a Smug Tw*t” parody purse. Pretty soon we’ll be like (perish the thought) San Francisco, which has banned disposable bags altogether.
The hipper it gets to be green, and the more the phrase “carbon footprint” gets tossed around, the worse plastic-bag guilt gets. New Yorkers use about a billion of the things a year, according to an article in The New York Times, and the city will soon require larger stores to sell reusable bags and provide recycling drop-offs for the plastic bags they give to customers. But in Manhattan, keeping a bunch of reusable totes in the car is rarely an option. And all too often, even the most well-intentioned consumer can be thwarted by a last-minute stop at the corner deli, or the drugstore, when two very New York emotions—feeling of entitlement to a convenient freebie, and distaste for waste—do immediate, furious battle.
“We do have a rhythm,” said Andy Azez, a manager at Around the Clock Deli, also in Park Slope. Mr. Azez said when it comes to his own shopping, he avoids the whole awkward counter encounter altogether. “I order from FreshDirect!”
Arlene Griffith, who has worked the checkout counter at the Food Emporium on Madison and 87th Street for six years, says about half her customers bring their own bags and more and more are buying the totes the store sells. But the habits of the rest are enough to make her feel seriously guilty about how many bags she passes out every day.
“What’s really annoying,” Ms. Griffith said, “is somebody could have one item, or two items, that are not heavy, and they ask us to double-bag it.”
Lisa Sacoor, an Upper East Sider who used to live in London, was listening as Ms. Griffith packed up her groceries in, yes, plastic. “It’s a complete waste, isn’t it?” she said. In Britain, she said, it’s easy to find good sturdy totes for sale at pretty much every register. In New York, Ms.Sacoor has yet to find any she likes, although she confessed that she hasn’t looked that hard.
This is, after all, a city where many people care an awful lot about their purses and briefcases, often to the tune of a thousand dollars or more. Interviewed at a 72nd Street subway station, a guy named Kevin, who lives on Central Park North but didn’t want his last name used for fear of offending the cosmetics company where he works, said he was thrilled when his employer handed out two free shopping totes. Well, pleased at the idea of it, anyway, he added, a cluster of plastic Fairway bags in his paws.
“They were purple and black and marigold” with patent leather trim, he said distastefully of the company swag. “I’m not carrying around that!”
Pam Amodeo is less vain; she bought simple reusable net grocery sacks for her shopping trips.
“But the problem is, I don’t always come straight from home,” Ms. Amodeo said with a sigh as she perused the shelves of the Upper East Side Food Emporium. Carrying the net bags around all day is annoying, she said, and running home to fetch them is too time-consuming.
She left the store a few minutes later, with three plastic bags in tow.