Sunday, September 4, 2005

Paper or Plastic?

I believe that most people look for meaning in the major disasters of our time (e.g., the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the various California earthquakes, 9/11, etc.) Some will say it’s an act of God punishing a certain segment of the population or the heavens sending humanity a pointed message. For me, however, I more often find meaning in the routine aspects of life, those everyday occurrences that we frequently take for granted. In my book, these ephemeral events say a lot more about the overall condition of human society.

In our role as American consumers, hardly a day goes by when we aren’t asked that ubiquitous question, “Paper or plastic?” Just today I was at a local store to pick up a gallon of milk (combined with several other errands). As the young checker scanned my solitary item, she asked, “Paper or plastic?”

I cordially declined either option. The milk was in a plastic container which sports a handle. What advantage would I gain placing this item in a paper or plastic sack?

Once last week, I stopped by a different grocery store on my way home from a meeting. This time I purchased two items: a loaf of bread and one serving of organic yogurt. Again, I was asked, “Paper or plastic?”

Since I knew the clerk, I asked her why I would want to place a plastic sack of bread in a plastic sack? She smiled because we had discussed this issue before and we both agree on the insanity of the question in relation to a purchase of one or two small items. Still, as she explained, the “paper or plastic” question is drummed into each checker’s head and it becomes habit to ask.

And I understand why the question must be asked! Far too many consumers EXPECT to be given their purchase[s] in some type of sack or bag. Many become angry if the are not asked the question.

When I do major shopping, I never hear the “plastic or paper” query. Why? Because I bring my own reusable bags. (I realize I should keep them in my vehicle for smaller purchases as well.)

So what meaning do I derive from this everyday consumer experience? People too often don’t think about consequences. Our landfills are becoming filled with bags and sacks that are typically used once, for the briefest of time, and then tossed away.

Yes, too much tossing and not enough contemplation.

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