January 13, 2007

More Americanization of Honduras

I've written a lot about plastic bags in Honduras. I have never seen so many plastic bags anywhere in all my life.

While plastic bags do take up less space in the landfill than most other kinds of containers, a whole lot of them end up in the streets, sewers, rivers and ocean instead, often with a load of trash inside.

Some of the plastic bags used for food or drinks are probably not 'food-safe' bags. I have no way of knowing for sure, but some of them have a very strong chemical odor which permeates the food if it is left in the bag too long.

Plastic bags are so overused. Sometimes when unpacking my groceries, I find items in their own separate bags, which are together inside another bag, which is combined with other bags inside a big bag! A big trip to the grocery store can easily result in a month's supply of assorted size trash can liners. I can't buy an orange without someone insisting that it has to be in a plastic bag.

I used to take my canvas shopping bags with me but they caused so much suspicion (maybe she's a shoplifter), confusion (why doesn't she want free plastic bags? −or− am I allowed to give her the carton of milk without a bag?) and explanation (I'm trying to save the environment!) that I've almost given that up. Plus, it kept the grocery store secret police (more on this in another article) busy peering at me from around corners when I'm sure there were others more deserving of their attention.

Another problem with so much plastic is that many, many people burn their trash, as do some of the small town and unofficial dumps. Breathing the air from burning plastic can result in serious health problems, especially for children.

best bags All that said, I give credit where credit is due and I have to say that Honduran grocery store bags are the best, sturdiest, non-leaking plastic bags I've ever seen. They beat any Hefty Husky Super-Strong Brawny Tuffy Heavy-Duty bags any day. You can reuse them as trash bags or trash can liners with no fear of leaking. You can reuse them for carrying or storing things practically forever they never rip or tear.

Now, back to the point about Americanization

All that good part is changing now. Bit by bit, I see our sturdy Honduran trash bags being replaced by the flimsy, leaky U.S. style with handles.

worst bags Some of the import stores recycle their flimsy WalMart shopping bags when bagging their customers' purchases. Most of the multi-national gas station stores use tiny, flimsy, unreliable bags − you know the kind: the ones in which the handles tear off or the bottom falls out before you even get to the car.

(I have done my share of grocery shopping at the gas stations, believe it or not! They used to be the most likely place to find frozen bagels, Philadelphia cream cheese, water-packed white tuna, half-way decent ice cream, and English-language magazines.)

bad bags The new WalMart-owned Paiz grocery has come to town and they use the flimsy, handled plastic bags that are so common in the U.S. The grocery packers tie the bags in knots so people can't steal anything on the way out. By the time I get home, that knot is so tight that all I can do is rip the entire bag open.

better bagsbetter bags The other big grocery in town, Super Mega, still uses the heavy plastic but they have switched to the handled-style version, which leaks due to the manner of construction (U.S. style).

Why, oh, why, do we have to change a good thing? Now, not only am I throwing away most of my bags instead of reusing them, I'm also buying more plastic in the form of trash bags. I don't feel good about this.
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