No Bag, Please

One of my favorite projects that has come out of my graduate education is a self-adopted “no bag policy”. There’s no fancy design work behind it, no logo or branding, no glossy model. It’s simply saying no to plastic or paper bags when I don’t need them.

The number of plastic bags my family accumulated in a single Walmart run has always astounded me. We kept a bag full of plastic bags, and typically reused the plastic bags a second time, usually as a trash bag. But even with a “second life” the volume of plastic bags always felt excessive.

During first semester, I took a class about sustainability and resilience. I had trouble remembering the course title, so I referred to it as “Cuba Class”, because the entire course was about designing for Cuba. Through my research, I discovered that plastic bags are a valued commodity in Cuba. No one leaves home without one, plastic bags are laundered and pinned up to dry, and they’re sold somewhat sketchily (perhaps illegally) on the streets. It made me realize that something as simple as a plastic bag has a lot more utility than we give it credit for, and it suddenly felt incredibly wasteful and inconsiderate to throw out plastic bags without a second thought.

That being said, it wasn’t until February that I implemented a personal “no bag please” policy. At the time, we were taking a materials course with a sustainability focus, and it made me think back on Cuba Class and plastic bags. I carry my backpack with me virtually everywhere, so I started keeping a plastic bag in one of the pockets.  I said no to “their” plastic bags, and put my merch or groceries in “my” plastic bag (which is a largely branded plastic bag from a grocery store down the street). Most of the time, I try to interject before someone can give me a bag, and carry the items either in my hand, or I put it in my backpack.

There’s an eatery down the street from my school that I go to several times a week, and each time, they ask, “Is this for here or to-go?” I usually bring my food back to the studio, so I would specify to-go, and then frantically tell the cashier that I didn’t want a bag before their auto-bagging-reflexes kicked in. Sometimes I was too slow, and wound up with a bag. However, one day, I decided to eat there and told them so. Magically, they didn’t try to give me a bag. Now, whenever I go, I straight up lie to the cashier when they ask, “Is this for here?” I tell them it is, pick up my items, and walk straight out the door.

The most fascinating thing about the project is the amount of satisfaction that comes from saying no to a free bag. It’s such a feel good moment to think that I saved a bag from ending up in a landfill. I haven’t been meticulously tracking my disposable bag skipping, but it comes out to about 4 or 5 bags a week. I get excited when I begin to multiply that out - between 16 and 20 bags in a month, over 200 bags in a year.

At the end of the day it’s a small gesture, but could be the beginning of something bigger.