From green Ireland to the Plastic States of America

Since I travel back and forth between the US and Europe very frequently, I no longer get a culture shock every time. There are some things that still get me though. One of them are plastic bags in grocery stores.

When I come back to the US, I get really annoyed because I literally get about 5 bags (paper or plastic) for about 10 items of groceries. The excess is staggering. It is a struggle to convince the baggers to NOT give me bags. It is “are you sure?” every time. Come on, is it really necessary to double bag that bottle of cheap beer?

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags (that’s roughly the amount of oil the US consumes in a day). Plastic bags cause over 100,000 whale, turtle and other animal deaths every year when animals mistake them for food.

A lot of European countries are now talking about forcing grocery stores to charge customers for their bags. I mean openly charge them. Of course, the customer pays for them either way, but when bags are “free”, they are actually covered in the cost of the food. The more bags you use, the more expensive your food. Ireland, for example was one of the first countries to pass the plastic bag tax in 2002: 33 cents if you want a bag with your purchase, which is hardly unreasonable. And guess what, within weeks, there was a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use. That is the funny thing about people – they like free stuff, even if free isn’t really free.