3 September 2011
Yesterday we featured the myriad of wonderful baskets one sees at Penticton’s Saturday Farmers and Artisans Markets. Today we go on to something a tad less charming, but nonetheless still utilitarian, and popular with a certain gender.
Disposable plastic bags. The thin white ones from grocery stores, of course – which seem to be getting thinner every year, as the supermarkets and big box catch-all stores try to convince their customers to make the switch to their recyclable bags of fabric or heavy plastic or some combination thereof. We’re even getting charged for the disposable bags, and the price seems to keep rising as the thickness decreases to the point that anything heavier than lettuce or bread is sure to break the bag. Then there are the thicker, shinier ones, often in blues and blacks and reds and other shades. You’re more likely to acquire them – for free, generally – at clothing stores, specialty shops, and the more uppity department stores. Like their poorer mates, they are colorfully splashed with store advertising. Generally, you can trust them to hold a somewhat heavier load. And of course there are also the extra-large plastic disposable bags you’ll get at hardware and some department stores, perfect for bulky items, but unfortunately often too thin to carry much weight – an unfortunate conundrum, don’t you think?
Do you ever wonder when disposable plastic bags first appeared? Apparently they were invented by a Swede who took out a US patent in 1965 (although various forms of thicker, stronger plastic bags have been around since the 1930s). They were advertised as an environmentally friendly alternative for the sturdy paper grocer bags. No more forest destruction, polluting manufacturing processes, and loss of animal habitats. Hurrah for progress! And wouldn’t you know it? They ARE environmentally friendly! Well, sort of. Apparently 50 to 75 per cent of disposable plastic bags are reused – usually as garbage bags. And they’re popular, right? It’s estimated that between 500 billion and one trillion are used each year, worldwide. Which may be just a little scary, as one of your standard disposable plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to disintegrate (even though the thin ones take about 10 seconds to rip apart). They also gradually leak toxic chemicals into soil and water, and tend to choke any wildlife that get too curious about them.
Of course, with levys in some places, and outright bans in others, folks are starting to use disposable plastic bags less, with about 7% taken to recycling centers. Then there is some switch to fabric bags and baskets and such. Fortunately, manufacturers know how much we love our plastic bags, so they’ve created wonderful plastic garbage bags to replace our “recycled” disposable grocery bags – and these replacements are bigger and stronger and thicker. Yay! And stores are providing thick heavy-duty reusable plastic bags, or plastic-fabric combinations, and then of course stores are also encouraging us to buy plastic bins and other plastic containers and carriers as well. So it must be true: plastic is better!
But I digress. After all, we are focusing here on the totes folks use to bring home their fresh, organic produce, and natural, hand-made crafts and other artistic creations from Penticton’s Saturday markets. And I have to admit that over the past few seasons, I have noticed that fewer and fewer disposable plastic bags are being used. Most folks are bringing reusable bags, baskets, backpacks, and other sorts of totes. An ever-increasing number of merchants refuse to supply disposable plastic bags. Good for them! But some customers are still in love with their disposable plastic sacks. As I snapped these pictures, I did an informal poll and discovered an interesting fact: about 80 to 90 percent of disposable-plastic-bag-toting-customers are of the male gender! Perhaps disposable plastic bags are macho? Perhaps men don’t think to come prepared? Perhaps men are more concerned about jobs and the economy (after all, when Washington DC banned the bags, over 100 jobs were directly lost in the first year). Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps … Why do you think men love their disposable plastic bags so much?