Green Backs for Green Acts

Challenge #5: It’s All Fun and Games.

Using your own bag is so easy, even a cat can do it!

This was an odd conglomerate of items and tasks for Challenge #5—a jumbo battery charger and reusable water bottles—in the context of our recreation activities. Not being a cave hunter or living under a bridge (thankfully), I was hard pressed to tie these items together. About the only battery-charged recreation we do is taking pictures, and we already have a batter recharger for those little AAs.

I have been neurotically frugal with water bottles for years—used to reuse a plastic water bottle until the lipstick build-up impeded the flow of water. Ewww! Luckily, my colleague Wendy gave me an awesome “Make Love Not Landfill” Swiss-made aluminum water bottle for Christmas 2008, which I have been using faithfully ever since. It has probably saved a bazillion bottles in the landfill and saved an untold amount of money BUYING a potable product that pours from every orifice in my house! Thank you, Wendy. I got my husband one—a manly man blue design—and he, too, is good about filling it each day and using that instead of plastic water bottles. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Get a water filter pitcher, fill it with tap water, and fill your low-impact, snazzy water bottle every day. Did you know that for every plastic water bottle manufactured, it takes THREE TIMES MORE PETROL (OIL) TO MAKE ONE BOTTLE THAN WHAT IT WILL HOLD? Once I saw that on, I swore off plastic water bottles forever. Even parched in the desert, I’d be hard-pressed to slug down one of those upon my rescue. It is insanely wasteful, costly to the consumer, and those little 30-minute refreshments outlive us all in the landfill or ocean. Enough said.

Since walking and bicycling are two of my favorite recreational activities, I decided to take this latest Green Challenge to my local Henry’s grocery store on foot. This store gets a green badge of honor because they actually sell milk in glass bottles that you can return and the dairy washes, sterilizes, and refills the bottles. Henry’s also sells reusable grocery bags and organic produce and other foods. They give customers a 5-cent credit for each bag they bring in, too, so I figured it wouldn’t take too long to snag 20 people on their way out and give them a dollar for their “good behavior.”

At the risk of “preaching to the choir,” I decided to use positive reinforcement for people that use their own bags at the store. I cleared it with the manager in advance, lest he think I was harassing customers, and he was supportive of the endeavor. With 20 1-dollar bills in hand, I stood outside the store and presented people with a “green back for a green act” for using their own bag(s). I thanked them for making a positive difference and gave them a dollar.

One fellow shared that he collects the aluminum and glass from his apartment’s recycle bins, saves up the money, and throws a big BBQ for his tenants to thank them for recycling. He also takes his grandkids to the San Diego Zoo and shows them green ways of living. Bravo! Two people ignored me, despite the dollar outstretched and a hearty “thank you for using your own bag!” I guess they were uncomfortable with panhandling in reverse. One woman had her own bags AND her reusable water bottle. Yeah! Most people were appreciative and delighted. One lady acted like I just gave her the Hope Diamond, she was so happy. Wow, all this entertainment for $20!

It would be great to do this all over San Diego, randomly, and getting the word out that you MIGHT get an extra buck if you use your own bag…I bet people would be racing to get their cloth bags handy and suddenly remember to bring them into the store.

So why, you may ask, am I so obsessed with people using their own grocery bags? Because it is an EASY way for EVERYONE to save resources. And because I am haunted by “nurdles,” the plastic resin pellets used to make all things plastic. It is also the “residue” of plastic left behind in the landfill or ocean. Nurdles can carry harmful chemicals that hurt marine organisms, choke small animals, and appear to be able to act as sponges to concentrate pollutants released into the marine environment. They are a leading pollutant in oceans and waterways.

The book The World Without Us points out that every piece of plastic that has ever been manufactured is still in the environment somewhere (since no organism has yet evolved to make a healthy meal of this oil-based material), and nurdles have been found in the ocean in higher densities than plankton (the foundation of the food chain) in certain areas. Argh! Plastic bags, as it turns out, are very expensive conveniences. So the next time you have to buy groceries, bring your own bag (BYOB). Who knows, you might even make an extra buck!

Karyl Carmignani

Read Karyl’s previous post, Good News and Bad News.

The San Diego Zoo’s online gift shop has a selection of reusable shopping totes. Visit

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