Don't “Just Throw It In The Bag”

Bags are one of the most versatile and convenient items in existence. Their purpose is endless: they can be utilized as an accessory, travel container, lunch-box, decorative statement and - even - as a murder weapon for animals in the ocean. Which in this case, means I’m talking about plastic bags. In New York, plastic bags are an everyday household item. If you’re a New Yorker, I dare you to think of the last time you saw someone leaving a bodega or store holding something in their hand, exposed to the harsh anatomical function of their phalanges. Mints? Double wrap that, sir. Water that I’m going to immediately drink? Throw it in. Even more fascinating isn’t necessarily the unnecessary use of plastic bags, but more so that despite initial and intentional refusal, the plastic bag is consistently used, subconscious habit consuming common sense. So who is to blame, the bagger or the bag-ee? Or rather, do either care?

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As a California-born, California-bred individual, this concept both baffles and disappoints me. Let’s start with plastic bag issue itself. In 2016, California voted for Senate Bill 270, also known as Prop 67,  which prohibits the distribution of single-use plastic bags at grocery, drug and convenience stores, requires each customer to pay a minimum 10 cent bag fee. Ignorance may be bliss in this particular situation, but I didn’t realize that even without this particular ballot approved, Californians are doing pretty damn well in the environmental department. Weekly beach clean-ups along the coasts, agriculture-related initiatives in Northern California, and even simple tasks, like bringing lunch in a Trader Joes reusable bag, surrounded my life for 22 years. But because humans continue to destroy Mother Nature thanks to our man-made consumption, California constantly pushes for its occupants to do more. So we did more. We stopped watering our grass in blazing 100+ degree temperatures. We were advised in every public restroom not to take showers for more than five minutes and to shut off the water while we washed our hands. We installed solar panels to residential and commercial real estate to generate electricity. Me and my family took part in every advisory sent our way, yet I always felt like we were selfish in our approach. There was always more to be done.

In 2015, I spent six months in Australia, where I was introduced to dual-flush toilets, a concept I had yet to see in California. How was my homeland, the forever-in-a-drought state that wanted us to have brown, brittle grass in July, not aware of such a thing? Living in Australia graced me with ambition to become completely resourceful. From learning how to make natural beauty products from local, natural items, to transitioning to a plant-based diet and only buying produce from Farmers Markets along the street, I felt as if I was truly making a difference every day. The little stuff mattered, and it definitely added up. Returning back to the Sates, however, I was seen as a radical, slightly cultish hippy who generated too much passion and empathy for “propaganda.” Eye roll. Three years later, I moved to New York. I can attest that caring for the planet is not “propaganda.”

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The most viral environmental media to currently grace the internet is the 2015 video of a marine biologist removing a bloody straw from a sea turtle’s nose. Now in 2018, the cringe-worthy video is the leading piece of content to initiate conversation and action for green legislative items such as the Plastic Straw Ban. In July, Seattle, WA, became the first city to retract use of plastic straws. California also set a new environmental standard in August when it became the first state to pass the Plastic Straw Ban. Yet here in New York, I can admit that I, too, use at least one plastic straw a day. So while I am flabbergasted at the plastic bag usage, I am also adding to the problem. Weirdly, even as a strong-willed, opinionated woman, I find it hard on the East Coast to discuss or converse about my environmental stance. I’ve learned that the “New York attitude” I was warned of prior to moving is simply chosen unawareness, a lack of care for anything that doesn’t instantaneously affect you. When I grab coffee for my boss while she’s in-between meetings, I wouldn’t dare mutter, “How about no straw?” Not because I’m worried of conflict, but because my desperate pleas in support of a bloody sea turtle are the last thing she wants to hear during her five-minute (if that) lunch break.

But I can’t help but wonder when is it the right time to have these conversations? I’m equally busy as any other New Yorker. Yes, I have succumbed to my own lazy attempts at slurping the last bit of liquid out of my (also) plastic cup. Nonetheless, I’m aware, which is more than I can say for most other 8.5 million people that live in in the Big Apple. We saw New York’s focus on environmental issues recently with its primary campaign. Cynthia Nixon, who was running in the New York primary election, published a plan titled, "Agenda for a Clean Energy Economy and Climate Justice," focusing on environmental waste projects and renewable energy. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who beat Nixon in the New York primary election, initiated a plastic bag ban for the state three days after Nixon. Nixon, who truly believes in green energy, was overshadowed by Cuomo’s attempt to gather votes. But the majority of conversation among New York and its respective media companies wasn’t about either of the candidate’s environmental issues. Rather, Nixon’s personal media appearance as an actress on the HBO series, “Sex and the City,” a statement that is both redundant in context and conceptually irrelevant. The lack of environmental support in New York is minimal, but boy is it glaring,


Since moving to New York five weeks ago, I’ve learned a lot about pace. Commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan and working 10-hour days with minimal sleep has issued an abundant amount of caffeine to both my mouth and under-eye area. Exhausted but exhilarated is my new motto. As someone who believes in the people that make up this planet just as much as Mother Nature herself, I too, must be the change (especially) before I expect change from others. As a testament to myself, I’m exhausted of what lacks, but am exhilarated to evolve. While I would love New York to become the Subway-using, late-night-pizza-eating version of “The Golden State” overnight, New York has a long way to go. But as I said before, the little stuff matters, and it definitely adds up.

In the meantime, expect to find a reusable straw and shopping bag coming your way signed:

With Love (and Awareness),

From Yours Truly.

Carly Quellman