My wife and young child were still asleep when I slipped outside to go meet my dealer. I didn’t realize yet that she was my dealer, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was the first morning of a family trip to Seattle and we were staying in a vacation rental, not a hotel. That meant I was on my own for the A.M. items such as coffee and a morning newspaper that I require to function, so I stumbled down the street to the first corner shop I could find.
The corner shop cashier rang up my coffee, milk, cereal, a copy of that morning’s Seattle Times and a six-pack of some fussy Pacific Northwest craft beer for later. I smiled and paid, and waited for something to be done about this pile of groceries.
The woman looked at me. She looked at the groceries sitting on the counter. She then looked quickly – nervously – towards the door and around the otherwise empty shop. Her voice quieted.
“Do you need a bag?” she said.
Um, well, yeah. That’s generally what happens at this point in the transaction.
She looked around again, then reached into a little drawer under the cash register.
Now, I’ve patronized enough dodgy corner shops to know that this is usually where they keep the modified cigarettes or the vodka with “Stolichnaya” slightly misspelled on the label. So I wasn’t necessarily expecting her to quickly bring out a plastic bag and wordlessly pass it across the counter to me with a quick nod. It took me a moment to figure out I now had a neighborhood bag dealer.
And this was my introduction to Seattle’s plastic bag ban.
Seattle’s not unique here; in recent years, many places around the U.S. and the world have introduced legislation to ban, tax or otherwise diminish the use of plastic bags and other products deemed detrimental to the ocean. In her fascinating story on the subject, Christiana Lilly meets some of the people who would like to bring bans like that to various parts of South Florida – and the people who would really rather they didn’t.
Christiana’s story gets into the political maneuvering and big-picture debates about what needs to be done – as well as the everyday decisions people can make about how to be stewards of the ocean. And let’s be honest, that last one can be tricky. Things that aren’t great for the ocean are everywhere, and they make our lives easier. But we can take action. Sometimes there are big events like the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup – which includes a Fort Lauderdale cleanup, so mark September 16 on your calendar. (Past International Coastal Cleanups have removed more than 12 million pounds of trash from the world’s coastlines in a single go.) And there are the smaller, personal decisions. Saying no to a plastic straw. Making a quick litter pickup part of any beach day. Bringing our own bags to the grocery store.
Can it be hard? Sure. I own enough reusable grocery bags to host a retrospective titled Art in Publix Spaces: The Many Bag Styles of Florida, and yet half the time I still find myself walking into the grocery store realizing I’ve forgot to bring one. It’s about small, incremental behavior changes that eventually become habits. If enough people get in the habit of banning the bag from our own lives, our habits become a movement. Then it won’t matter what they do in city halls or Tallahassee; we can make plastic bags a historical relic ourselves. They’ll be kept in museums – or that one shop drawer with the dodgy vodka.