Shopping bags are the new enemy.
Count Italy on the offense: The country puts in effect in 2011 a nationwide ban of all poylthene bags, a.k.a. plastic shopping bags. Sacks of plastic that we find so handy to carry our goods home from shopping are no more in Italy.
It has been an ongoing crusade throughout much of the world the last five years.
The effort is to cut back on CO2 emissions and foster more recycling by banning plastic shopping bags. When a debate ensues, quite often nightly news programs show a plastic bag caught on a tree limb or shrub and in the background just within the frame a pristine river. The message is sent: Plastic shopping bags must be stopped!
The Italian government wants Italians to bring reusable bags while shopping. But what happens if you don’t have a reusable bag? Say, you’re an impulse buyer and find yourself inside a quaint mercato and on a whim purchase some cheese, bread and sausage for a picnic lunch? You must hold the items in your arms as you would a baby. You must show the world your rations.
It’s a tricky task. There is an art to carrying your groceries without a bag. I know from experience. Here in the District of Columbia, for the last 12 months we have had to pay five cents per paper or plastic bag when we shop. No longer a complimentary item for shoppers, Washingtonians are often found walking the sidewalks of the city hauling their foodstuffs in their arms, displaying to passersby what they will eat for dinner that night.
Take for example my last foray to my neighborhood grocer. The cashier, an immigrant from Korea, always assumes you don’t want a bag. Sometimes I forget to nod to the nickel fee and request a bag. He leaves my items on the checkout counter for me to haul on my person.
Thus, I have become an expert in carrying groceries without a bag. I take this opportunity to share with Italians some tips:
First, pockets are important. Items that can fit in the palm of your hand tuck in your jacket pockets. The inside breast pocket of my winter coat is surprisingly large. What once was the domain for a person’s pack of cigarettes can now be used to hold all kinds of stuff. Over the year, I have been able to place there a can of peas, a folded magazine, a newspaper, a CD, DVD, a container of Nutella, a wedge of cheese, frozen vegetables, various fruits such as a bag of dates, a bin of blue berries, an apple, a banana, even an avocado. (I pray a burly friend doesn’t give me a hug). Once I fill my pockets, the challenge is to hold my items in a way whereby I can walk the 50 feet or more to my car. You have to have a plan. For me, my left arm is for heavy items. A gallon of milk I hold there like a football while my left hand grasps a can of tomatoes. Under my right shoulder I might place there a roll of paper towels crammed next to a box of pasta, and in that hand the protein for the night’s dinner; a steak, a small roast, some chicken breasts (remember to wash your hands). Sometimes, I am able to hold the edge of a bag of lettuce or fresh vegetables between the tips my fingers.
I look like a walking Costco.
At my car, I place the items on the hood, retrieve my keys to open and pack inside my groceries.
The other way around the non-bag law is to shop somewhere else. Here in the District we drive across the border to Maryland or across the river to Virginia. At the Safeway in Arlington, Virginia, it is like a neighborhood reunion. I see members of our local PTA there and parents of my children’s schoolmates, some teachers and members of the neighborhood council. We all want to shop in peace, without government intrusion, without having to pay a nickel for each bag we use. We figure since we are spending over $100 on a week’s groceries, the least the grocer can do is offer us complimentary bags to transfer items.
But Italians will not have that privilege. The shopper in Milan will have to bear the same fate as the shopper in Naples, in Venice, in Palermo. Haul your goods in a reusable bag or hold them in your arms. It is the law. There is no escape.