France Finally Bags the Plastic

Parisians, I Just Want to Say One Word to You...

March 9, 2016By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
If the government’s good intentions are anything like mine, we’ll still be ankle deep in these things a year from now.

I try. I really do. Every morning I promise myself that this will be the day that I finally kick the habit. I’m fine until lunch and can usually get through the afternoon without much trouble, but by the time evening rolls around, most days I’m back to my old destructive ways.

No, I’m not trying to quit smoking. Or drinking or snorting or slamming or any other means of getting wasted — I’m trying to quit wasting. To be precise, I’m trying to quit wasting plastic. And to be punctilious, I’m trying to quit wasting plastic bags.

Like everyone with a frontal lobe, I’m alarmed about the 150 million tons of plastic microbits thickening the oceans, reportedly including at least one zone in the Pacific where the concentration of indestructible manmade matter is so dense that it will soon be possible to walk on it, erect buildings and a flagpole, and declare it the sovereign nation of Polymernesia.

And then appoint a Minister of Environmental Protection.

However, as I am learning from experience, it’s hard to change long-ingrained behavior. Since I moved here, the routine for purchasing any kind of product in any kind of store anywhere in France has followed an invariable eight-step procedure:

1. Enter store.

2. Say “bonjour” to the shopkeeper.

3. Find or request desired items.

4. Pay for them while the shopkeeper rolls his or her eyes because you didn’t say “bonjour” politely enough, meanwhile putting your items in a plastic bag.

5. Take items home.

6. Crumple bag into a messy wad (optional).

7. Throw bag away — in another plastic bag.

8. Pour glass of wine and flip on the TV to drown out the sound of the earth choking to death.

But there has been some progress. A couple of years ago, many stores started offering lightweight, compact reusable shopping bags for a nominal fee, typically a euro or so.

These bags are great, except for one thing: they should come with a sticker reading, “WARNING: Do not use!”

I say this because when you buy one it’s always folded perfectly inside its pouch so it looks nice and tidy and flat, like this:


But from the second you take it out of there and unfold it, it will forever after look like this:


I suppose that there are people somewhere who can refold those bags so that they fit perfectly back in the pouch. Probably the same people who iron socks, actually squeeze toothpaste from the bottom of the tube and mail their income tax returns on January 3rd.

In other words, not me. But finally, after about six months of studying the bags’ crease patterns and channeling memories of high-school geometry class (with some interference from P.E.), I figured out the technique.

By sheer coincidence, it also happens to be an eight-step procedure:

1. Flatten bag neatly and carefully with the handles away from you.

2. Fold bag neatly and carefully from the bottom up, following the creases, until you reach the handles.

3. Fold sides neatly and carefully toward the center, following the creases.

4. Fold handles neatly and carefully down over the rest of the bag.

5. Realize that it is frankly impossible to fold the entire thing plus the handles in any way that remotely resembles neatly and carefully.

6. Try to stuff bag sloppily and haphazardly in the pouch anyway.

7. Fail.

8. Crumple bag into a messy wad (required).

That’s all there is to it! When you’re done, it should look like this:


Oh, by the way, I lied — this is a nine-step procedure. The final step is:

9. If it’s the kind of bag with a separate pouch, lose the pouch after one day. If it’s the kind with an attached pouch, lose the entire bag after one week.

So my lightweight, compact reusable bags have never been nice or tidy or flat, but they are still lightweight and compact. And I guess they’re reusable, but I can’t say for sure yet because, of course, in order to reuse something, you have to use it first.

I seem to have trouble with that part. It took me another six months to remember to take a bag when I left the house. Now I almost always have one with me, but I still haven’t quite got the hang of remembering to use it at the store — which kind of defeats the whole purpose, if you think about it. Or even if you don’t think about it.

And I, for one, don’t: at least half the time I forget about my eco-friendly alternative until I’m already carrying my purchases home in yet another dozen grams of future pollution, destined to make the journey from the trash can to the garbage truck to the landfill, and then I suppose at least partly to the ocean and ultimately to the gills of the descendants of the fish that I just bought for dinner. Who I’m sure would remind me not to use so much plastic, if only they could.

But now, in 2016, I’m finally going to have to break my habit. Probably. At long last, France has passed a law banning stores from handing out non-biodegradable single-use plastic bags.

I added “probably” because the law’s application date has already been pushed back twice. Originally set for January 1, it was delayed to April 1, and now is scheduled for July 1.

In other words, France has been dragging its heels on this initiative about as much as I have. This is not a good sign. Sometimes I think I might as well emigrate to Polymernesia. Who knows? I hear the streets are paved with gold Visa cards.


© 2016 Paris Update


An album of David Jaggard’s comic compositions is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, for purchase (whole or track by track) on iTunes and Amazon, and on every other music downloading service in the known universe, under the title “Totally Unrelated.”

Note to readers: David Jaggard’s e-book Quorum of One: Satire 1998-2011 is available from Amazon as well as iTunes, iBookstore, Nook, Reader Store, Kobo, Copia and many other distributors.

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