Paul's Internet Landfill/ demons/ The AD-BAG



Another one was sitting on the front porch this Saturday morning. Every time I see one of these things, my blood begins to simmer. And this marks the second week in a row that I have found an AD-BAG at my door. I hope this is not becoming a trend. I don't think that my blood pressure would be able to take the strain.

For those of you not blessed enough to live my decadent North American lifestyle, an AD-BAG is a white plastic bag that has materialized on my doorstep for the second consecutive week. It is adorned with rows of green pentagons that look like the small red plastic houses out of the Monopoly board game. It is not as large as a standard grocery bag; it is roomy enough to hold a loaf of bread and not much else. It serves a very important purpose: to envelope a single flyer advertising a grocery store. Presumably, the people who thought up the AD-BAG decided that they would protect advertisements from rain and snow and hailing frogs admirably. Unfortunately, the weather has been sunny and clear both days I have retrieved the AD-BAG from my porch. But at least I know that in the event of rain or snow or hailing frogs, my advertisements for grocery stores will be protected from the elements.

In addition to rows of green pentagons, the AD-BAG sports some text, which reads:







This is very useful information. Seeing as how the bag contained only a single flyer, I was not able to recycle this bag and its flyers in my Blue Box. Thus, I was forced to pursue the second option. Using this bag at work might have been a possibility, but I was unable to come up with a good use for a bag too small and weak to serve any useful purpose. I am on summer vacation, so using this bag at school would have to wait until September. I don't drive a car, and this bag is far too small to hold all of the Tupperware-like plastic containers I use to carry my lunch. I had run out of options. What could be done?

Happily, I put the first AD-BAG I received to good use. I use it as a garbage bag in my living area. Unfortunately, I don't produce enough garbage to please the AD-BAG people, and my first AD-BAG is not full yet. I am still looking for some good use for the second bag -- perhaps I will write an angry article about it, or something.

This is the point at which my blood begins to simmer. This bag is a complete waste of energy and resources. For one thing, weekly flyers are not important enough, in my opinion, to warrant a plastic covering of protection. For another thing, there was a single flyer in this bag, which is guaranteed to be obsolete in a week anyway. Thirdly, we already have a perfectly good mailbox in front of our suburban house. This mailbox does an adequate job of protecting newspapers and other flyers from the elements; what makes this flyer so important that it deserves special treatment? Finally, there were no elements threatening this stupid flyer. So what is the point of delivering a costly bag to my door?

The point, of course, is that plastic bags are not costly in terms of dollars and cents, and they are a good way to advertise one's wares. The Canadian Media Network of Brampton, Ontario gets some fairly decent publicity by delivering this bag to every door in suburban Mississauga. That can earn them money in the future, and that is well worth the cost of a few hundred thousand useless plastic bags.

Or is it? These bags may cost less than a cent each to produce, because we arbitrarily assign them that financial value in our money economy. However, there are a lot of hidden costs to getting this bag to my home:

Don't forget: Every time this AD-BAG is transported, internal combustion engines must run and fuel must be burned, which wastes yet more oil and pollutes the atmosphere yet more. Every time this bag is refined, yet more energy is wasted. Some of the energy sources used to run factories include coal and oil, which do wonders for our air quality, nuclear fission reactors, which produce radioactive leftovers that hang around dangerously for hundreds of years, and hydroelectricity, which may seem better than the other alternatives, but inflicts massive damage to ecosystems in their creation.

The point that I am trying to make is that these AD-BAGs are not cheap. Nor do they serve any useful purpose other than to make their manufacturers money. They may only cost a cent to manufacture -- which is why they are given away free -- but the hidden costs are enormous and deadly. They are meant to be used once and disposed of, which would make their environmental mantra of "REMEMBER: REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!" laughable if it wasn't so frighteningly cynical. And what do they deliver? Flyers, which are themselves a symptom of our sick wasteful society.

You can be sure that I will be giving the fine people at the Canadian Media Network (1 888 79-AD-BAG) a call, to waste their long-distance telephone call budget and try to presuade them that I do not want their stupid bags delivered to my home, thank you very much. If you would like, you can as well -- especially if you live far away. [I'm sorry. That was a horrible, wasteful suggestion. Keep your calls short.] However, my efforts are not going to make any difference. I cannot make an impact by taking my business elsewhere, since I do not pay money for the privilege of having flyers delivered to my door. Even if these idiots were willing to exempt me from their wasteful habits, they would not be able to single me out from the thousands of other suburbanites who don't mind having AD-BAGs cluttering up our corner of the world. There is nothing that I can do, because everybody in the world of the money market is caught up in this tangled web of dollars and cents. Regardless of my personal feelings, I can be certain that, unless the flyer people decide to spare my poor blood pressure next week, there will be an AD-BAG waiting for me at my door. It drives me nuts.

Of course, this is just one small, visible symptom of our cancer. Whenever I go shopping, I have to be very alert when it comes time to pay for my goods. Why? Because cashiers put your purchases in plastic bags by default. You can buy a chocolate bar, and these people will whip out a small, virtually unusable bag so that you can carry your purchase all the way out of the store. The situation is nuts. Some cashiers even get confused and paranoid when I insist that, no, I do not need a bag to carry an overpackaged 10 bars of soap, and that so long as I get my receipt I will be able to assure security that I indeed paid for my purchases. When sturdy canvas bags and backpacks are available to the general public, there is no need for plastic bags. Most of the goods we buy are overpackaged anyways -- do we really need a plastic bag for a box of individually-wrapped Twinkies? When most of the people of this society drive cars, there is exactly no excuse for plastic. Yet, the plastic tidal wave continues. It's no wonder that so much of our waste (is the figure 60%? Is it higher?) is packaging. It is no wonder that we produce the most waste per capita in the world. It is a wonder that we are not completely ashamed of ourselves.

Could I be missing something? Might there be some hidden masterful use to which all of these plastic bags are put to use? Not really. I use plastic bags to carry small items from place to place and as garbage bags -- but even though I attempt to minimize the amount of plastic brought into our household, there are still far more plastic bags available around the house than any of us need. I could easily live without the plastic bag, and so could most of us. Do you disagree? Look at how the majority of the world lives -- they don't need their daily dose of plastic to survive. Why should we? Of course, that argument won't convince the people who would benefit most from curbing their wastage, so I have a better example:

There is one grocery store that I admire quite a bit. It is known as Price Chopper, and its attitude is that it wants to save you money. That may be a suspect philosophy, but I have discovered that it does several things right, even if it does so for the wrong reason. For instance, instead of doling out grocery bags for free, it charges 5 cents a bag. That's right. It costs a measly nickel to purchase a bag from Price Chopper. Granted, I think that you get a good deal for your money -- Price Chopper bags tend to be strong and durable. However, that's not the point. The point is that it is amazing to see how people are suddenly able to live without plastic bags when this grocery store starts charging them for the privilege. Price Chopper has a habit of leaving its used cardboard boxes at the front of the store for people to take away -- and take away they do. People go to tremendous lengths to hunt around for free cardboard boxes strong enough to hold their weekly groceries. A lot of people bring their own plastic bags from home to carry their groceries in. Others forgo extraneous containers altogether, loading up their shopping carts with paid goods and happily carting away the shopping carts to transfer their goods to their suburban minivans. (Incidentally, Price Chopper also uses a 25 cent deposit for its shopping carts. Again, it is amazing to see how few shopping carts are left strewn around the parking lot. It's all for the love of money, I guess...) People can live without their plastic overpackaging, and they do live without their plastic overpackaging when the costs of that packaging are put in terms their tiny little minds -- our tiny little minds -- can understand: money. That is kind of sad, but if every store followed the example of Price Chopper, perhaps we would be a little closer to reducing waste to sustainable levels. Perhaps.

What's the moral of this story? We are still too immature to see the real prices behind what we do. As long as it serves the purposes of the AD-BAG people to produce their useless bags, they will continue to do so. As long as suburbanites continue to receive their useless bags and flyers delivered for free to their doors, they won't complain. Nobody will complain until a crisis arises, and by that time it will probably be too late, because by that time we will probably have exhausted our reserves of non-renewable resources on so many frivolities that we will have none left to make the things that really do make our lives easier. And then we will face a catastrophe. So why am I supposed to walk around with a happy smile on my face all the time again?

Oh. There is one last thread to this tale that I haven't tied up yet. What about the single flyer that the AD-BAG so diligently protects? Is it cherished and honoured as the valuable item it is? No. I don't even bother to look at it. It is thrown into our Blue Box as soon as I pick up the AD-BAG from our porch. I have no burning desire to read overpackaged flyers, and that particular grocery chain is notorious for its inflated prices anyways.