In the mail I received one of those shopping bags that are so popular now. Emblazoned with the logo of the non-profit that was hoping I’d send them a donation, in compensation and in lieu of the usual address labels or note pads that non-profits send you, the perfect size for a binder or stack of promotional material – because I carry binders and promotional materials with me everywhere.

I appreciate that they thought out of the box. Address labels is getting kind of old for many of us now – how often do we send a letter through snail mail anymore? Maybe a birthday card or an insurance form. Maybe 15-20 times a year. And, when you receive address labels, there are 30-40-50 of them. I had amassed a lifetime supply two or three years ago. And note pads – again, not terribly helpful. I have a drawer full of note pads and sometimes use them for grocery lists or packing lists, but more often use my phone now for that.

And yet I am not grateful for this free carry sack. I have a closet full of them and they tumble out on me when I open the door. One whole shelf is nothing but carry sacks. My husband’s duffel bag is on one side of the shelf, filled with messenger bags from his bike-shop days, other duffle bags, and nylon briefcases emblazoned with conference logos that his sister received at medical conventions.

The middle pile is entirely canvas bags, I must confess most with B&N or publisher logos on them, again relics of conventions past but so useful. Other canvas bags — from resorts we visited, yoga studios, places like that – are the smaller size, the ones with the handles too short to fit over your shoulder and just slightly too small for anything larger than a pair of shoes. Not as useful. And somewhere in that pile, the Fresh Direct bags – if you’re outside the Fresh Direct area, they’re the best, most awesome online grocer in NYC. They used to deliver in cardboard boxes that were the perfect size when you were moving house – and what we’ll do the next time we’re moving I don’t know – and now they deliver in box-sized bags that are the perfect size for hauling huge loads of laundry down the laundry room. And a giant Ikea bag, which I bought to haul home extra Billy shelves and keep because it’s perfect when I have a huge box to drop off at the post office or UPS store. Also mixed into that pile, grocery store bags, like the Wegmans bags or the Fairway bags that you buy when you drop by the grocery store and realize that you forgot a bag and you don’t want a plastic bag – you know the ones, every suburban car seems to keep a few in the hatchback. Like rabbits they multiply, each time when you walk into the store and realize – Doh! – I left the bags in the car. Oh well, I’ll just buy more; they’re so useful.

The right-side pile starts with wine bags, the ones that a winery gives you when you buy 3, 4, 6 bottles of wine. Useful when you are carrying wine to someone’s house but how often does that happen? And yet we must have 10 or so. Then there are the free “backpacks” given out by schools, the kind with drawstrings for the shoulder straps that are super uncomfortable. (And not to be confused by the three – count them, three – backpacks that live elsewhere the in apartment. Five years ago, I owned zero backpacks. Now I own three, which I mostly use when traveling, although I sometimes use one to carry canvas shopping bags if I’m going to be out walking about and will drop by the grocery on my way home.) And the rest of that 18” high shelf space are these free bags, like the one that the non-profit sent me. Some were gifts from non-profits; some were shopping bags from stores that have given up paper or plastic. Some were handed out at conferences, filled with waterbottles (don’t even get me started on the water bottle collection) and other freebies.

Hundreds of years from now, when archaeologists have dug down to our level of the garbage middens (Freshkill), they will know they have found us when they find the layer of free bags. They will call us the Hoarder Layer. My husband is reluctant to discard any of the bags – they might be useful, and we don’t want to encourage plastic grocery bags. On the other hand, I suspect that others are starting to feel the same way. My niece sherpa’d our Christmas gifts down from Connecticut – she was in town but the only indication that she had been here were the bags waiting for us at the front desk, alas – in a thermal bag that looks like it was another giveaway and two reusable bags. At first we all kept these bags because we only had one or two and they really were useful. Now we give them away freely because we have so many. Perhaps we could trade them like Pokemon cards – I’ll trade you three Kona Village canvas sacks,  a New School drawstring backpack, and a Lands-End canvas bag with a BookMaster logo for one Fresh Direct bag.

And those are just the ones in the closet. I keep one in my carry on roller bag, in case I need to want to pull out toiletries and valuables before checking it at the gate because I am always in the last boarding group. And I keep one in my purse, one of those tiny ones that fold up to nothing, and another in my desk at work. One lives in the closet, receiving dry cleaning between runs. And I suspect my husband keeps one in the messenger bag he carries to work every day.

And do you know what all these “reusable” bags are made out of? Plastic. Don’t let them fool you – they say they’re made out of “recycled” plastic but, often when companies say that, the contents are pre-consumer (manufacturing scraps and rejects) not post-consumer. Post-consumer goes right into the landfills, waiting for someone to find a use for them.

Along with all these plastic bags pretending to be fabric.

So use them, use them well.

But, if you are ever put in a purchasing position, don’t buy them to give away. And don’t pay for them at Wegmans. Go through your closet – or garage – and put them in your trunk.

If you forget one, walk back to your car rather than buying another. Tell yourself that you’re getting your steps in.

Every little bit helps.

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