Saturday, October 16, 2010

No thanks, I don't need a bag with that

Today my husband wanted to buy something at a clothing store, and it was an item already packaged in a plastic wrapping. As usual when he went to pay, he said, "No thanks, I don't need a bag with that." It was a small gesture in minimizing the enormous amount of waste we generate, a practice we have very recently adopted based on the totally defendable common sense of why waste another plastic bag to wrap something already packaged? or so we thought. But to his surprise, the sales lady replied with a snide remark, "Good for you, you've just saved a plastic tree."

Now, what kind of response is that? My husband drove home thinking he should NOT have purchased the item in the end, he kicked himself for being too polite that instant. We discussed it at length afterwards, it was a very strange response after all. How did that offend her enough to say something like that to a customer in a bad economy? But then I have seen it before, or at least something very similar. I am not sure about this particular sales lady, but I have heard from others who thought it unAmerican to recycle or conserve. People got offended.

My former cube mate Scott for example, he drank water only from plastic bottles, and although my company had a decent recycling program, he insisted on throwing his bottles into the trash even when the blue bin was immediately next to the garbage can. He told me that was the American thing to do. I suppose he meant that it is the right/duty of Americans to consume. Now, Scott is born American, but the strange thing is, many immigrants I know are anti-recycling as well, and for similar reasons. I have many friends who came from India and China where conserving resources was part of life, but many told me that it was no longer necessary because they are now in America. I may be able to understand this if we are talking about a bunch of uneducated folks, but these are all highly educated professionals I am mentioning.

I suppose what I am saying is entirely anecdotal, and perhaps my perception is skewed, unfair, and inaccurate. But when I travel, I have noticed the difference in attitude a great deal. I lived in Germany for a year and I have seen the efforts people made to conserve energy and recycle, and for the most part, they don't have to. Over there, you get mildly uncomfortable when you throw out trash before first separating the bottles, cans, and papers in front of the neighbors. So is it the system and the government? or is it the individual? In the end, I suppose there are very few people in the world who are actually doing enough, and I think most people, including myself, throw things out when we shouldn't. But still, I think something is seriously wrong when deeds as simple and good as reducing consumption and recycling is under attack anywhere. Just a thought.


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