Paper or Plastic?

bevmire's picture

It turns out that, indeed, plastic is indestructible

I am so p***ed!

Like so many of you, I’m diligent about always having cloth bags in my car.  I put on a smug face when I buy something in a less-evolved city and am asked “paper or plastic?”  In such cases I bring out a nice, clean, foldable bag I keep in my purse for such occasions.  I whip it out and shake it open so my fellow shoppers can see how environmentally aware I am. 

It’s written all over my face:  “I’m from Cambridge.  We are civilized.”

So!  Imagine my surprise when I was at the checkout counter at the Star Market in Porter Square last week and what did I see, big as life?  The dreaded plastic.  The cashier didn’t say anything, and was amazingly polite, but I felt like he was mocking me.  If I hadn’t ceremonially brought out my cloth bag he would have said “paper or plastic.”  The only saving grace was at least they cost the same as paper.

I’m old enough to know not to write a letter while mad, so I waited until the weekend passed and wrote two city counselors I like and trust.  Characteristically, they immediately replied and the upshot of both communiqués was that they would pass on my concern to DPW who would send someone to check it out.  I was advised, though, that if the bags were strong it’s ok, because the intent is to be able to re-use them.

I seethed and for a while thought I’d stage a personal boycott of Star, but that crumbled when I realized that Whole Foods doesn’t sell Cheerios, the smaller stores don’t have what I consider a good wine selection, and THERE STILL ISN’T A DECENT FOOD STORE IN HARVARD SQUARE!

So, I went to the Star on Mt. Auburn.  I’d put aside my irritation, almost forgot it, until I stood in line to pay.  There they were.  The enemy.  And the person in front of me actually bought one.   Voluntarily.

I was on the verge of seeing red, but the cashier was so polite I stopped at pink and composed myself.  I found my civilized voice and asked if she noticed whether more people chose to buy paper or plastic.


I gathered up my cloth bag, one from Market Basket that I chose to be my statement bag of the day, and walked over to customer service.  I needed to know.

Clutching my  bag as if it was armor,  I politely asked the customer service rep about the bags.  I thought plastic wasn’t an option anymore I said.  He patiently explained that the bags they sell are made of recycled material and are heavier plastic.  They’ve been approved by the City of Cambridge.  Deflated, I asked the same question I asked the cashier:  Do more people ask for plastic?  He answered in the negative.  I wish I could say that made me feel better.

So, fellow Cantabridgians, the paper of plastic option is back on the table.  But now, your grocery chain will profit from plastic.

I don’t know about you, but I know where those plastic bags will end up.  Some will end up in a trash can much like the one pictured.  And since it’s not meant to be a trash bag, when it’s tied together by the handles there’ll be plenty of room for the smaller bits of trash inside to fly out.  And, like many of its flimsier plastic bag relatives, it’ll end up in landfill somewhere.  With any luck it’ll end up in the ocean somewhere, annoying some pesky fish.

Or, just as likely it’ll end up on the side of the road, or even flying from tree branches.  Yeah they’re heavier, but wind always trumps plastic.



Note to self:  Lay off the smug until you read the fine print.