Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Most Wasteful Cashier in the World

First, before I get the real post for today, I'd like to satisfy myself by doing "Woohoo: Part II". All those "experts" saying the Atlanta Falcons would be lucky to win four games this season are looking pretty foolish right now, aren't they? Matt Ryan drops in a perfect pass for a touchdown on his first ever regular season pass as a pro, throws for something like 9 for 13, Michael Turner breaks a franchise record for most rushing yards in a single game, and for the first time in a very long time, the offensive linemen didn't look like it was their first time ever working a blocking scheme. Of course Detroit has a miserable defense, but their offense was pretty high octane last year and the Falcons couldn't score a touchdown to save their lives last year. I've come away from this Sunday very reassured about the season prospects for the only NFL team I care about. The front office may have done something right for once. Either that or the fact that the worst team in the NFC South always wins the conference the next season is more an unbreakable law of the universe than it is a nearly decade-long coincidence.

Now the tale of the crappy cashier.

I don't really hold grocery store cashiers to a very high standard. There are a few out there who are really good at their job. Heck, I was an awesome cashier back in high school, but most of them are below average people working for minimum wage or a negligibly higher rate. Not exactly the recipe for greatness.

Today's girl really took the cake for crappy cashiers, though. K and I have a few of those reusable bags that we've picked up from Harry's Farmers Market, Malaprop's book store in Asheville, and Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, today was restock the pantry, fridge, and freezer day, so I didn't have enough of those to handle the purchase I had to make, so I had to let the cashier bag my goodies up in plastic bags.

The only thing is that she'd put like one or two things in each bag and nothing more. She actually put a pound of turkey sandwich meat by itself in bag. She put a bag of potatoes in a plastic bag. The potatoes already came with a functioning handle! The plastic bag was entirely redundant. It wasn't even that I had items that should be bagged together spread all over the conveyor belt. I used to do her job and I keep in mind that end of the transaction when unloading my cart. The raw meats are unloaded together. The cold stuff is unloaded together, and the non-edibles, cleaning supplies, and poisons are unloaded together. Bagging my load of crap is easy, but not for this girl. She couldn't manage to get more than half the expected and safe load into each of my bags.

Of course, this girl isn't the only person who wastes grocery bags. There are a lot of things that should never be bagged that many people seem to expect to be bagged. I understand that people really should be using the larger, sturdier reusable bags, but let's face it. It's a mild annoyance to have to remember to keep those bags with you when you're going shopping and most people aren't going to take the importance of reducing their disposables seriously enough to care. Most people are going to stick with the plastic bags because they're easier. So, for those people, here are my rules for bagging your groceries:

1. If the thing you're bagging will take up most or all of the bag's space or weight capacity, don't bag it.
2. If a large object has an easily utilized handle, you should be slapped if you bag it. There's no reason to put a bag of potatoes or a gallon of milk in a bag. They're too easy to carry without one and you can't put anything in the bag with them.
3. Despite the fact that you should never use a bag for your milk, it is a good reference point for the weight limit of a plastic bag. Grocery bags easily hold a gallon of milk. If what you've put into the bag doesn't add up to about the weight of a jug of milk and there's more room in the bag, put more stuff in the bag. You don't want to overstuff the bag because pointy corners of boxes can undermine the strength of the bag, but if there's room, use it.
4. If you're taking your purchase out to the car in the buggy instead of hauling it all out to the parking lot in your arms, you can bag even less stuff. Cereal boxes waste a lot of space and bags of chips really don't need to be bagged at all. If where you park your car is far from your kitchen, you can always get a laundry basket to carry the goods from the car to your house or apartment.


sid said...

In South Africa you have to pay for each plastic bag that you use. This means that we ensure we place as much as possible into one shopping bag. We also bring along our own plastic bags.

Julie said...

While agreeing that this cashier was unnecessarily wasteful, I also think that you do hold cashiers to a higher standard, given you have been one previously.

I have been frustrated with our baggers lately. I am convinced that the grocery store needs to send them all to a class to learn how to bag using reusable cloth bags. They don't seem to know what to do with them.

Courtney said...

You don't need to bag a single damn thing. Just put it all back in the cart like it was before, take the cart out to the car, load it in a box and carry the box inside when you get home. Or, if you don't have a box, just put all the stuff in your trunk and find a laundry basket when you get home. Plastic bags are 100% unnecessary.

I like Sid's comment about paying for each plastic bag. We should do that.

Chris said...

I think Harrys/Whole Food does charge per plastic bag, if you use them.

We've gotten pretty good about remembering to bring our reusable bags with us to Wal-Mart. (I know, we're terrible people for shopping at Wal-Mart. But from where we live, it's either that or Piggly Wiggly, which is gross even compared to Wal-Mart.)

I've been surprised to find that many of the cashiers actually like the reusable bags. Since they're bigger and sturdier, the cashier sees it as a challenge to cram as much as possible into each bag.

Unfortunately, Courtney's method won't work at Wal-Mart, because the door nazi makes you show your receipt for any item that is not in a bag.

I also noticed that our Wal-Mart recently switched to thinner, flimsier plastic bags. I sort of wonder if this is their sly way of making people want to buy the reusable bags instead.

I left a Jacob-size comment! Yay me!

Jacob said...

Sid: I wish they would do it that way here. We're already paying for the bags in the markup on the goods we buy. It'd be nice to make that fee more visible, especially since it would discourage waste.

Julie: Seriously, as long as they can use the scanning equipment and at least are familiar with the produce number lookup sheet, I don't really care if they can average 45 items scanned a minute. I had the vegetable and fruit codes and the position of the UPC barcode memorized for all but the rarest items an was the second fastest clerk in the store. The only one faster was the assistant manager who'd been there a good bit longer. I was the god of the grocery checkout line.

Courtney: What you're advocating isn't going to happen except among a small minority of true believers. And considering how little space these things take up when even the slightest pressure, it's going to be difficult to get most people to take the issue seriously enough to go to that fairly impractical extreme. Advocating it at the expense of more practical solutions will do more harm than good because it makes environmental responsibility look like it's just for loony hippies.

What we should be advocating more strongly is the reusable bag. If you can train yourself to keep these in your car and get them back out after every time you bring them inside to unload, they are actually superior to the plastic bags in every other way. They're stronger and won't tear or rip randomly and they hold more which means fewer bags to have to drape over your arm.

Chris: Wouldn't it be funny if a cost-cutting measure by Wal-Mart lead to a significant increase in reusable bags. Wal-Mart as a positive environmental stimulus! Even if it is just a marketing facade to cover the fact the plastic bags suck more if the end result is a good thing, who cares?

Jacob said...

I forgot to mention that any store that went to charging for the bags now would be committing business suicide unless it was a niche store like Whole Foods where the positive PR from the green aspect makes up for the more visible cost. It'd either have to be an industry-wide initiative or a regulation to work. Kind of like the smoking bans.