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Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.

Beverly Godfrey column: Bagging the future

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Duluth, 55802
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

I drew a line with a peanut-butter jar last week and threw it in the trash. I believe in recycling; it’s good for the planet, and it is the law to separate recyclables from the trash.

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But peanut butter jars are such a mess. How much water am I wasting to wash it? That must negate the benefit somewhat of recycling the container. Funny how unnatural it felt to throw it away. Liberating, too, though.

Caring about such things can be exhausting. At some point I have to decide how much I want to rage against my culture, and how much I want to settle in.

Must I buy organic juice in glass containers and tote the jar around with biodegradable paper cups to pass around to the kids? Or, can I buy juice boxes? The floor in my house is littered with those little straw wrappers, so there’s your answer. They have just enough glue to hold the straw to the side of the juice box — and to stick to my socks as I walk across the living room.

But should I buy boxes or pouches? One has more bulk; the other seems less biodegradable. Is the decision moot because I’m already on the path to damnation buying juice boxes in the first place?

The next challenge is getting my juice boxes home. I have a dozen reusable grocery bags, and still hope someday that it will become routine to remember them. Hasn’t happened yet. I do notice a lot more people buying the bags than bringing them back to the store.

I didn’t worry much about recycling plastic grocery bags until my daughter needed to do it to earn a Girl Scout badge. That drew my attention to the bag-recycling bins at many stores. I couldn’t believe how quickly our bags added up, and how much space they took. After that, I started a new routine of saving them to recycle — and forgetting about them until they were taking up half my laundry room. At this point, I have so many, I’ll be a bit embarrassed to take them in, unsure if they’ll fit in the recycling bin. But it’s either that or live with the image of storks stuck with bags around their necks and sea turtles mistaking them for jellyfish and drowning with a belly full of plastic.

Where my bags will cross paths with storks and sea turtles is beyond me, but nevertheless, that’s the guilt I’ll be saddled with.

And that’s what I felt with the peanut-butter jar, too — guilt. It’s such a common, modern affliction, living in the age of excess packaging. I’m surrounded by all sorts of easy, convenient products but still get the message that I’m bad for buying them.

What an interesting cycle we’ve seen in the past 100 years, from products that were all biodegradable and reused to “modern” plastic containers — and then a swell of consumer guilt over how much we use and throw away and how long it will take to decompose. This has led us to the present, as we try to backpedal into reusing water bottles, food containers and grocery bags.

But if there’s a perfect medium, a sustainable compromise, I’d say we haven’t found it yet. Future populations will excavate our landfills to find a deep layer of plastic bags — right below a layer of reusable shopping bags people bought and never used again.

Beverly Godfrey is a News Tribune copy editor and columnist. You can reach her at bgodfrey@duluthnews.com.

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