Like countless other Al Gore-fearing Americans, I'm finally making the big switch to reusable grocery bags. In fact, I'm so eager to do my part for Earth that each time I go shopping, I make sure to forget my bags at home, thereby allowing me to buy a whole new set! Not to brag, but my collection could fill a landfill. Oh, but, of course, I'd never throw them away. They're reusable. Well, theoretically.
The cabinet next to my sink bulges with my good intentions. To open the door is to set off an avalanche of hemp, recycled organic cotton, and 80 percent post-consumer waste (plus, to be honest, plastic bags I'm hoarding). Closing it involves stuffing the cascading bags back in while slamming shut the door. Save a sea turtle or a tree, lose a finger. OK, I admit it. Sometimes I don't forget my bags. I simply lack the mental energy to do the dance.
I'm not alone in my bag-nesia. Endless products address the modern challenge of having several grocery bags with you at all times. There are bags that hook onto your keychain, the idea being that you won't forget your keys, so you won't forget your bag. Never mind that you can lose both, leaving you locked out of your house and forcing you to buy yet another reusable bag. There are compact bags to toss into your purse or pockets. Who cares if there's no room for your wallet, a brush, and a book?
You can store bags in the trunk of your car. But even driving the bags to the store is not a guarantee you'll actually take them inside. At Whole Foods in Brighton, customers occasionally dash out of the checkout line to the parking lot to retrieve their bags, reports the store's marketing team leader, Lauren Klatsky.
Klatsky insists none of the other customers mind. But I don't know. Perhaps it's time to replace the "12 items or fewer" aisles with express lanes for shoppers who can prove they have their reusable bags in their possession - or who are willing to carry out items in their bare hands.
Not to complain about the cost, because what's a few hundred dollars - or more - compared with the long-term health of the planet? But reusable bags can get expensive. Ninety-nine cents here, $960 there (for a reusable silk Hermès bag). It starts to add up. With the money I'm spending to transport my groceries, eating out might be more cost-effective.
And there's another issue: fashion. If you're a certain type of person, it's not enough that your reusable grocery bag holds groceries. It must also establish your style. With designers getting in on the action, a Self magazine headline sums up the challenge: "Look chic at the farmers market." Better you should show up in curlers and sweatpants than be seen carrying your organic herbs and heirloom tomatoes home in a plastic bag.
Statistics on reusable-bag production are hard to come by, but when I asked Vincent Cobb, founder and president of reusablebags.com, if the solution is becoming part of the problem, he didn't hesitate a moment.
"Absolutely," he said, explaining that some are made so cheaply they fall apart after a few uses. "They are becoming more of the junk."