Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shed the plastic, shed the shell

A new standard has swept across our consumerist culture; one that seems to stem from the ‘greenification’ of businesses and plays on the newly adopted ideals of the fledgling eco-conscious demographic. For years, supermarkets and retail stores, big box and mom and pop shops have been slinging our goods into plastic bags so we might carry them off in a cheap, branded, disposable sack. But this is no more, or at least, not for free. With the introduction of the five cent ‘plastic bag tax’ in Toronto, anyone who would like to use a plastic bag provided by the store must pay $0.05 for each bag they use. Without getting into a huge debate about whether or not it’s a good idea, I’d like to say that I think it’s great that our government is changing the standards in our city so that people’s day to day lives are actually affected. Regardless of who is on the hook for the nickels; the businesses or the consumers, I see a great deal of opportunity for change in other facets of our consumptive nature that might be brought on by this initial departure from the comfy norm. But I digress.
My opinion on the new law has little to do with the common arguments of this issue such as, “who has to pay what” and “why don’t the business owners cover the cost as part of their advertising budgets”. My interest is primarily in the social ramifications of implementing this new strategy; I prefer to examine the actual felt response to the change, not the one felt by our wallets, but the one felt by our brains; our sense of community and interconnectedness.
I was driving down the street and spotted a guy walking home from the corner store with a carton of milk in his hand. It was instantly interesting to me because I’m one to notice weird stuff like that, but mainly because I could SEE the milk. It wasn’t in a bag, it wasn’t in a box, and it wasn’t obstructed by some store’s logo or slogan. The fact was that that guy only needed some milk. No eggs, no Dijon mustard, just milk. He probably was just like me; finished off the last carton with breakfast and didn’t have time to grab a new one before he made it home. So there he was—jaunting home, milk in hand, smile on face. And there was a connection there. I saw myself in him a little bit, as anyone who’s ever bought a solitary item after work would see, and it made me think about the bag tax. If we didn’t have the bag tax, he probably would have asked for a bag (or would have been given one even without asking), but since he didn’t, I can now view his purchase, even from my car. And to be able to see his purchase, is to be able to see into his world, and immediately, linkages are drawn between his world and mine. Linkages that would never have been drawn had he been swinging a Dominion bag with contents “X” instead, linkages that connect me to him as fellow men, even if that connection is just that we both like one percent.
It’s interesting to me that now that we’re not using plastic bags as much, not only are we connected through our common goal to save our own asses from a fiery doom, but we’re also being brought closer together by the increase in transparency of our actions. Granted, if people don’t stop to notice these things, then we won’t really ever progress from our shoe-gazing, fast-paced lifestyles; but I think that maybe this lack of bag barriers will help to increase people’s aptitude for exploration, question asking, pondering and in the end, relationships.

What do you think!?!