My experience working as a cashier led to a rocky relationship with plastic bags.
They were difficult to pull apart, frequently ripped, and made a mess around the cash register. Much to my chagrin, customers would often ask for items to be bagged separately or double-bagged. In my frustration at pulling apart sheets of plastic, I had no hesitation about immediately discarding a bag that wouldn’t cooperate.
My own self-centered tendencies rarely lost out to the guilt of being wasteful. Sure, I knew those bags had nowhere to go besides a landfill, but that’s where they were going to end up anyway.
American consumerism has long supported this vicious cycle of wastefulness with willful ignorance. Our garbage disappears into the alleys between apartment buildings, into dumps rarely visited by the average citizen, and eventually into landfills never to be seen or thought of again.
According to Seattle Public Utilities, Seattleites recycle only 13 percent of the 292 million plastic bags they use each year. These bags end up everywhere but the recycling center. The origins and resting places of plastic bags scarcely cross our minds, much like everything else we’re accustomed to in our everyday lives. In an attempt to remedy our wastefulness, the city of Seattle will confront the issue head-on when a citywide plastic bag ban goes into effect July 1.