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Ziplock Bags and Deliberated Choices

The following was written by guest blogger, Mark Goetz.

I love ziplock freezer bags. They are handy and durable, seal well, and don’t take up much space in a drawer waiting to be used. In the freezer and refrigerator they don’t take up any more space than their contents do. I’ve used them to hold meat, chili and spaghetti sauce in the freezer. I’ve used them for the same things in the fridge, although the kids have objected (on aesthetic grounds) to a plastic bag full of gravy or mashed potatoes or chocolate pudding. With the “double zipper, fresh shield: tough on the outside, fresh on the inside” quality they are a delight and at only pennies a bag I can afford to throw them away after a single use.

When we lived in the village of Bohong, Central African Republic, there was no garbage. Everything was used – multiple times. Empty cement sacks were used for writing and wrapping paper. Tin cans became water glasses or storage bins, especially if they had a reusable lid. Bottles, plastic or glass, became canteens. We washed and saved almost every empty everything and periodically, nomadic Fulani herders would stop by and ask if we might happen to have any containers they might use.

Most things in the market, including bread, peanuts and meat, didn’t come wrapped and we (and everyone in the village) had our (their) own tote bags of one kind or another. When we did have a plastic bag, we’d wash it and dry it and reuse it in the kitchen or the market until it wasn’t possible to use anymore.

We had to re-adapt to American culture on our return. In many ways that was harder than adapting to village life. After some months back in the US, empty 2-liter pop bottles spilled out of the pantry when I opened the door. We couldn’t throw bottles away.  I imagine we were still expecting visits from wandering nomads that could use new canteens. Saving what for us was garbage, but for someone else was of value, was no longer a sustainable practice.

We’ve continued to use canvas tote bags for grocery shopping but, for some reason, not for other kinds of shopping. Up until a few years ago we were still washing plastic bags, out of habit, I suppose. But lately I noticed that we’ve been throwing away plastic bags, even our tough durable ziplock freezer bags, after a single use. In some way, it doesn’t seem right.

When our children were little, we used cloth diapers. It was a deliberate decision based on the personal financial situation of a graduate student with a family to support. We did not make a conscientious decision to use canvas market bags and to reuse plastic bags. It was just a lasting habit developed from normal life in another culture and it seemed right. I didn’t make a decision to start throwing away used ziplock bags either. It was just another habit I picked up from our own culture in the last few years. I’m not even sure when I started to do it.

Now, I’m not really thinking about ziplock bags, or the amounts of disposable plastics in American landfills, or the inadequacy of landfills in the developing world, or the great garbage patches found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I am really thinking about decision making, or more specifically, choices that I didn’t really make.

We’ve been around the global block so to speak, having lived in a number of countries other than the USA.  And that experience has affected the way I see my world and the way we live. (I suspect that friends think we march to the beat of the different drummer and that she plays in syncopated rhythm.) Some “life style” choices were deliberate decisions e.g., the neighborhood we live in, the vehicles we drive, maybe the clothes we wear. These types of decisions are mostly a balancing act of costs, convenience and some sense of social morality/accountability. But I wonder how many decisions I really don’t make; the decisions I don’t recognize, where I just go with the social/cultural flow.


Mark Goetz is a consultant and mediator in Montana. This post first appeared on The Table, a social network for volunteers working with ELCA World Hunger.