Seriously, stop charging me for bags

I had an unfortunate experience with a sales associate at the Bay tonight. I went in to look at handbags (because all the ones at Winners were actually losers or just way too expensive, in my opinion). I got lucky and found a great bag and a lovely red wallet - I've been looking for a red wallet I like for years. Since most of the store was on sale (Bay Days! Woohoo!), I decided to look around for a couple of other items I actually needed. Maybe my priorities were a little out of whack, but the fun stuff always takes a bit longer to find. It took about two minutes to gather the rest of my things and I went to the closest customer service area. As is the norm at the Bay, no one was there. So, I waited and watched for someone to emerge from the depths of racks and products. I didn't have to wait too long. A woman trudged out of the purses carrying loads of them, clearly doing cleanup.

She saw me holding my necessities and pointed me to another customer service station - she clearly didn't want to serve me. I have worked in retail in a store very similar to the Bay, in fact, and I know the drill. Normally, I wouldn't have even waited at her register because I'm pretty observant and could tell she was busy. However, my largest purchases were from her department and since my experience with department stores is that they often don't have sale items marked down in the computer, those were the items I wanted to ring up correctly on my bill. She could do that without thinking. The other department would have had to go and check or guess or not give me the discount. I wasn't taking any chances. I held up the bag and wallet for her to see I was purchasing from her department and she grudgingly agreed to come over. When she got there, she stated that she gets people wanting her to ring up items from other departments all the time and that she has to send them away. I was pretty appalled at her candor and unwillingness to serve customers, which is the primary point of most retail positions! If I was a secret shopper, she would have failed for the entire store before we ever got to the good part of this story. That, and the quality of customer service is something I feel pretty strongly about.

While she was ringing me up, she started stuffing everything into my new purse. I thought it was odd, but I didn't say anything. Frankly, I would have preferred it if she'd asked me if it was okay first, but she was not a particularly polite woman to begin with so why change? At the end, after everything was rung up and stuffed into my new purse, she looked at me with her finger poised over a button on the register and asked me if I wanted a bag. I felt like she was daring me to say yes. As if I was going to be solely responsible for the Earth's demise under tons of plastic bags if I chose to take a bag, even though everything was already in a bag. I was suspicious, but I looked at my stuffed purse and said that no, I didn't need a bag after all.

Then I asked if they were now charging for bags. Yes, she said, they had just started this week. I just kind of hmphed and rolled my eyes. Without knowing the reason for my reaction, which I'll get to soon, this rude woman decided to state her own opinion. She emphatically stated that she is quite happy they're charging for bags, because now people don't want to pay and that means less bags will end up in the landfill. She went on to tell me that she shops quite a lot and doesn't mind carrying her things. By this point, I'd really had it with this woman and I was questioning whether I wanted to just return the purse and everything else right then and there in protest of her rudeness and the lecture about the environment. But then I'd have to keep looking for a new purse and red wallet (yes, I'm slightly obsessed with having a red wallet and I don't know why). Thankfully, it was time for me to leave and she was able to go back to doing her cleanup, which she preferred to do over helping customers anyway. I wonder if she needs a reminder that every purchase she rings up actually contributes to paying her wages?

On my way home, I got to thinking about this whole bag thing and the more I thought about it the more I feel I must question these plastic bag reduction initiatives. I'm not saying there's not a valid concern about plastic bags in the landfills, but it strikes me as rather dubious that consumers are being charged for "single-use" bags and I have concerns about the reusable ones too. By the way, I take exception to the "single-use" label for grocery bags - I reuse grocery bags all the time. Yes, I buy them. I have cats and their litter has to go in something. When someone comes up with another way that my cats will also tolerate, then we can switch to the reusable grocery bags.

I have a handful of different reusable shopping bags from various vendors. I bought two of them and one was given to me. Of these three, two are made of some kind of heavy duty plastic-like material. They're both pretty much waterproof. The third one feels like it's made of all natural fibers. That third one is probably going to degrade one day when it wears out and ends up in a landfill. The other two, I have serious doubts about their biodegradability. Isn't that a problem as well? Don't the reusable bags need to be environmentally friendly for them to serve their purpose? I know many are, but I don't think for a minute that one can make that assumption about all of them. 

This isn't necessarily about the environmental impact except in terms of the volume of reusable bags, but every store now carries its own reusable bags now and I'm sure they all want you to use their bag for any purchases made in their store (brand recognition, marketing, etc.). Otherwise, they lose that marketing value. The way the bag frenzy is going, we could be drowning the landfills in reusable bags that are nearly as damaging as the "single-use" plastic ones.

In the middle of all this, I had this pretty amusing (I think) vision of someone walking out of a Coach store with their excessively priced Coach handbag stuffed in a Walmart bag. Not a bad anti-theft measure (because who would guess you have a Coach handbag in a Walmart bag!?), but I'm betting Coach wouldn't be overly thrilled with the potential for confusion and lack of recognition. For the record, I am not made of money and I did not purchase a Coach bag. Actually, I'm not sure the Bay carries them - at least not that I noticed. I wasn't looking for Coach, though, as I am not made of money.

I'm not an environmentalist, but I absolutely believe in being a good steward of the environment. I believe in respecting our resources and not abusing them. I think we should all take steps - within reason - to conserve and prevent waste. I came to the conclusion, with regard to the plastic bag issue, that I wish the stores who charge for bags would just stop providing plastic bags. Quit nickel and diming people to death and just get rid of the bags altogether. You'll make a much more significant impact. People would adjust - even ones like me who have to take care of the litter somehow. Charging consumers for bags is just straddling the fence - "deterring" people from buying the bags is considered doing something to save the environment. I don't think so. How are you doing something for the environment with a big stack of bags sitting there waiting to be bought. And frankly, paying five cents for each bag isn't all that much money. I've never paid more than 50 cents in a grocery trip anyway. If I bought 10 every week (I don't), I'd spend a whopping $26. Sorry, but that isn't enough to stop me buying them. 

A little side thought: Have you noticed that the quality of the bags we pay for now is so much better than what used to be provided? Why is that?

If the government and corporations are truly concerned, then plastic bags should be banned outright and every single reusable bag should be 100% recyclable. Somehow I don't see that happening anytime soon. I feel - perhaps cynically - that this is mostly a PR play to give the appearance of taking drastic action. In the meantime if you're like me and you buy the bags, it's socially unacceptable. Frankly, though, if it wasn't grocery bags, I'd still have to use some other kind of plastic bag to take care of the litter. So, maybe the next thing they could work on is an environmentally-friendly, affordable, cat-friendly way to dispose of their waste. Because we did try to train them to use the toilet and it failed miserably. (Yes, Matt did seriously try to toilet train our cats.)