It hit me in San Francisco. I had moved there from NYC, and suddenly had to live a life without plastic shopping bags (my present day self cringes at this memory). This really irked me at the time, because I was one of those people who kept all my plastic bags under my kitchen sink and re-used them as bathroom garbage bags, travel shoe bags, dirty laundry bags, or protective barriers when transporting my liquid toiletries. Was I now expected to buy plastic garbage bags for my bathroom?! Should I be requesting that visiting family members from the East Coast traffic in their excess shopping bags? And to add to what felt like a major life plot twist, if I wanted to carry any purchase home from a store in ‘not my hands’, I would have to pay a ten cent tax. The nerve of those oracle-like SF lawmakers who banned plastic shopping bags back in 2007, and expanded the law in 2012.
Turns out, even as someone who has always cared deeply about the environment, I had developed blindspots when it came to consumerism. I needed that extra push of a bag tax or ban to wake up and question why I was robitcally taking disposable shopping bags home from retailers in the first place. The idea of now paying (even just ten cents) for something I used to get for free without thought was enough to push me in the opposite direction. Pay for a disposable bag?! Blasphemy, I’ll bring my own damn bag! Picture previously mentioned lawmakers joyfully singing dance puppet dance!
Back to reality, I was also influenced by seeing everyone in SF walking around with reusable totes – clearly this is just what you do here. Typically I’m one to rebel against social norms, but when I realized this time it meant being the asshole selfishly prioritizing my own convenience over the planet…when in Rome.
Sure, it was annoying at first to have to remember to never leave the house without an empty tote. Grocery shopping took a few run-throughs to get down in terms of how many bags were needed to correlate with the shopping list (4 more than does the trick). But in reality the act of thinking about, finding, and leaving the house with the reusable bag/s took only a minute of brain power. And after a few weeks, it became just as routine and mindless as the old way. Only this was not the old way. It was the better way.
One big unexpected benefit that came along with this minor behavior change was the feel-good vibes. Something magical happens when you whip out your own bag, place your purchase inside, and walk away. You stand a little taller. There’s a pep to your step. You may even catch yourself in a self-congratulatory smirk. Over time, it may get to your head and cause an uncontrollable scoff in disgust at your non-BYOBing peers. It happens. The important thing to note, my friends, is that you will feel a rush of dopamine from having done something good.
So there it is. The story of how I realized a plastic bag is a plastic bag. Thanks to San Francisco for forcing my eyes to this fact. I’ve been a tote-carrying, disposable bag rejecting citizen ever since. And while it’s now routine for me to use my own bags, somehow that gratifying feeling of knowing I’m being a resourceful steward for the environment comes along for the ride on every single shopping trip, like an encouraging pat on the back.