Plastic Bag Nation

Plastic Bag Nation

I like to make observations when I go to countries. I like to think I’m an observant guy. Of course, it’s also hard not to make observations. Even if you were walking around with your eyes closed it’d be difficult to not make observations.

One thing I’ve noticed about Mexico is how prominent plastic bags are. This is plastic bag country. Plastilandia. Plastic Bag Nation. It’s not uncommon to see someone at a corner shop buying the following items: eggs, fruit, meat, and maybe something else like Coca Cola. The eggs are put in their own plastic bag, the fruit in its own bag, and all of this is put inside one bigger plastic bag. This is Plastic Bag Nation.

When you go to a grocery store you have to fight with the bagger to not get a plastic bag. “I don’t need a bag,” you say. They start to put your stuff in a plastic bag anyway. “Sorry, I won’t be needing a bag,” you say again. They look at you like you might’ve recently hit your head or don’t understand the concept of plastic bags. And then you walk down the street carrying your avocado and your onion in your hand.

The worst place I’ve been to in terms of plastic bags is Nicaragua. Here, not only does everything come in plastic bags, but often times once these plastic bags are used they’re immediately thrown in the street. There’s a reason for this. Back in the proverbial day, things were wrapped in plantain leaves in Nicaragua when they were sold. When you consumed whatever was inside, you simple threw the leaf in the street. No harm, minimal foul. But nowadays little comes wrapped in plantain leaves, everything comes in plastic, but this custom of throwing the wrapper on the ground has lingered. And so, if you’re on a bus in Nicaragua, it’s not uncommon to see someone eating a dish of chicken and rice out of a styrofoam container, and then to instantly throw that container out the window. Without batting an eye. Without squinting an eye. And sure, you could inwardly berate someone for doing this, or even outwardly berate them, but it’s not done with malice, in fact, it’s done with no thought at all.

Of course, the plastic bag culture is changing in many countries. It’s disappearing. In a place like Whole Foods in The States they might take you in a back room and beat you with a paddle if you were to get too many plastic bags. A lot of countries charge for plastic bags now. And more and more people bring their own bags to the grocery store, which is a good thing. In Germany people have cotton bags made from organic cotton, and these bags are expertly crafted to last several lifetimes. I know, because I’ve been using one to carry around my laptop and my personal effects for the last two months whenever I go out on the town. Hats off to German engineering.

It might change one day in Mexico. If it were to change overnight, I fear there might be a revolt. People might start stealing plastic bags. They might start making their own plastic bags. They might start wearing plastic bags. Until that revolution happens the plastic bag culture will continue. The eggs will have their home. The meat, too. At home in a never-ending sea of plastic.


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