Is there an expiration date on a brown paper bag? I'm not sure, but a cashier at a local market decided that my brown paper bag needed to be permanently checked out. To save money, I often bring my own paper bags to the store. The payoff: I receive a 10-cent, per-bag rebate. On a typical shopping trip, I've saved 10 to 30 cents by providing my own bags. I wrote about bag rebates in this post: Saving 10 Cents at the Grocery Store.
One bag had been through the checkout line several times. Signs of wear-and-tear were obvious. One of the paper handles was ripped and the bag was so worn that the paper felt like soft cotton. On the bag's final trip, the cashier shook her head and the lady behind me studied my bag with admiration.
"Now that's recycling," she announced, while laughing.
The cashier retired the bag, threw it into the trash and bagged my items in a new, crisp brown bag. The best part: I still received the dime rebate. But the whole episode made me think about the process of recycling. These are my questions:
1) How long can you recycle an item before the process becomes a) gross, b) unsafe or c)pointless?
2) Do aesthetics matter? Should the physical appearance of a shopping bag, bottle or container be a factor in our efforts to repeatedly use an item?
3) Should we care about public opinion? My beat-up paper bag could be viewed by others as either ridiculous or as a badge of honor. But why did I care about the cashier's opinion? Did it really matter that other people in line laughed at me?