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Mary Rea | Reusing plastic bags is not for everyone

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I was at a Methow Valley fundraiser recently and talking over cocktails with a well dressed woman who dismissively described another guest as “the type who reuses plastic sandwich bags.”

I sort of slunk down behind my glass of white wine. I’m one of those people.

I wasn’t sure what to say next — inquire how she felt about hangers?

Speaking of hangers, there seems to be two types of households: those where there are never enough hangers to go around, and places like ours where hangers seem to reproduce unfettered. No matter how many I send to the rummage sale, there are always more hangers in the closet.

The same goes for Tupperware lids. I have a limited number of bottoms, dozens of tops. They come out of nowhere.

The kick space underneath the kitchen counter is a breeding ground for those pesky little plastic bread bag clips. Rubber bands replicate in a basket by the stairs.

But for some reason plastic lunch bags don’t reproduce here, leaving me with a quandary: how many re-uses does it take to go from thrifty to cheap? From sanitary to contagious? Obviously, some people think once is enough. Others recycle bags till they develop holes and start leaking.

But just to be sure I wasn’t out of line, I asked the people in my exercise class whether they re-use plastic sandwich bags. Folks in the Methow Valley have strong opinions on almost everything, and I knew I could rely on them to tell me whether a person is somehow defective because she saves Ziplocs.

Everyone strongly agreed it is irresponsible to toss out the containers after only one use. To do so fills landfills faster, wastes plastic, and costs money that can better be spent elsewhere. One even said she has a sandwich bag drying rack, specifically designed to prolong bag life. Another mentioned the grease and smell test. If it’s greasy or smelly, it’s gone. Otherwise it goes back into rotation.

But what about that woman who doesn’t re-use bags? Is she wasteful? According to health officials plastic bags, even when washed, retain bacteria and can infect the next food that goes into them. They say it’s a food safety issue. If we don’t throw sandwich bags away as soon as we empty them, we are setting ourselves up for illness or worse. That doesn’t sound very good.

So maybe the lady with the gold jewelry wasn’t so wrong after all. Maybe I’m just not her type.

Mary Rea of Mazama is the author of the novel “Ladies Night Out.” Her blog, which follows where her mind wanders, is at maryreabooks.com. She can be reached at m2rea@earthlink.net.

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