22 May 2007

My Canvas Bag Ministry

When I go grocery-shopping, I grab several canvas grocery bags from a hook in my kitchen closet. They ride in my shopping cart while I gather my bread and vegetables, and then hop onto the checkout stand to hold my groceries.

The bags are homely: rumpled and stained, their kid-painted designs worn off by years of hard use. Some of my favorites, the canvas bags I first started using back in the mid-80s, have worn-through bottoms and can only handle light loads.

When I first started using canvas bags, most of the grocery clerks thought I was weird. They'd ask me if I wanted paper or plastic, and I'd tell them that I want my groceries in these rumpled cloth bags. I had to encourage them to pack them full, and not to wrap certain items in disposable bags to keep them separate from other items.

I started using canvas bags to save trees, but came to find them more convenient than disposables. They hold more than a conventional grocery bag, stand upright more easily, and have good carrying handles that don't easily rip. I can carry more groceries using them. In the early days, before we had curbside recycling, my grocery bags took bottles back to town for recycling.

So, after more than 20 years of using canvas grocery bags, I asked the clerk at our local, quite hip, organic grocery how many shoppers use reusable bags. She estimated 15%.

I felt discouraged for days after that. I've been singing the praises of reusable bags for 20 years, giving them to friends as gifts, encouraging perfect strangers to give them a try, and yet, even at the most environmentally aware spot in my town, hardly anyone uses them.

Other reusable items that could be used by a lot more people include cloth handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, cloth rags instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper napkins, commuter mugs instead of to-go cups, cloth diapers or elimination communication instead of disposable diapers, and reusable food containers instead of disposable ones.

For many years, I've been disappointed when I read articles that promised to show me 10 easy things to do to save energy or help the environment. I was hoping to learn something I didn't know, to hear ideas that haven't been part of my life for decades. Lately, though, I've started getting excited about environmentalism again. After years of seeming-stagnation (and, in the SUV-crazy years, backsliding), I'm starting to hear new ideas and new enthusiasm for old ideas.

This shift is reflected in Meeting, too. Several years ago, we had an active Peace & Social Order committee and a sleepy Friends in Unity with Nature committee. Now the situation is reversed: FUN has picked up and P&SO has dropped off. There's talk about putting solar panels on the roof of the Meetinghouse. The Meeting passed a global warning minute a few months ago, and Friends are actively talking about things we can do as a Meeting to help the environment.

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