Post Title: What? No More Plastic Bags!


The No #1 Question

“What? No more plastic bags!”

That question, followed by disbelief and bewilderment, echoed down the thirteen registers at our local grocery store.

I was not the only cashier faced with it.

“No sir. But we have a promotion. If you buy two recyclable bags, you receive one for free. And not only that, but if you have your Advantage card, you receive a second free bag.”

“How much do the recyclable bags cost?”

“Ninety-nine cents each.”

With a resigned look, many customers take the four, looking closely on their side of the register to ensure they receive their 2 free bags.

Earth Day – Our Environmental Start

We had been advertising our change in policy—no more plastic bags—for weeks. We launched it on Earth Day: April 22.

Most customers simply forgot to bring in their bags.

“I have a whole cupboard full at home.”

“I bought some last week, but left them in my car.”

Customers looked lost as they faced immediate need: What will we do right now?

“We do offer paper bags as an alternative.”

“Are they free?”

“No sir. But they are only a dime each.”

“Corporate greed!”

“We have chosen to do away with single-use bags for environmental reasons,” I patiently explained. Have you ever seen whales with plastic hanging off their tails? Probably not. We don’t live near the ocean. But it happens.

Vision Impaired Cashier

As a vision-impaired cashier, the transition made me anxious. What new challenges would this present?

Now I had all the ‘regular’ problems—missing bar codes on products, nis-priced sale items and discerning the correct total—along with the bag issue.

How would I manage?

We had a special screen to tally up the paper and recyclable bag count. When we put the numbers in, the register gave the promoted discount and added costs for the paper bags. We also had a special bar code on the register for the free bag offered with the use of their advantage card.

But it wasn’t explained to me. (Maybe other cashiers asked more questions ahead of time). So I adjusted my use of the screen and bar code over the last three days, changing as I better understood our new system.

My First Day

“So what would you like to do about your bags?” My voice trembled with my anxiety.

“Gimme the paper ones, I guess.”

Don’t fill them too full. They’ll tear. I had never used the new paper bags with handles. But they didn’t seem too sturdy.  I still remembered my faux paus in putting two liter bottles in one of the old paper bags early on as I cashed out one customer. The bag ripped and the customer ripped into me. With my first customer on April 22, I lifted the bags into the cart holding on to the bottom of them. I know I looked awkward but that’s just the way it had to be.

“Okay.” I took a deep breathe. You’ll get through this. I reached for my magnifying glass. “Your total is …  yes … 17.27.”

My next customer wanted the paper bags too.

A quick glance at the conveyor belt said I’d need 4-5 bags. Oh Lord. I reached down and bumped my head on the side of the shelf—it was dark and I wasn’t used to reaching down—and I smoothed out two bags to fill and placed two on the silver runway.

I used one bag for the meat.

One bag for dishwashing liquid, deodorant and shampoo.

They had a lot of frozen foods and canned goods. So I divided these up in the remaining brown bags.

Wetting my lips—a nervous gesture—I carefully transported them to the small cart they brought around for me. Leaning down to place a bag in the lower portion, I bumped my head again. Oof! This is not easy to load. Oh God, help me!

The Rest of the Day

Luckily for me, the third customer brought in her own bags. And it was a cinch to fill them. I clicked on and then bypassed the special screen count and went to Total. Magnifying glass. Okay. They’re paying with their card. Easy peasy. Deep breath.

The bags came. Gigantic bags. Used blue bags previously used in the store. The biggest challenge came from a brightly colored set of nylon bags with no firm shape.

Flexible. Remember you’re a go-with-the-flow kinda gal, Amy. You adjust. You can do this. Don’t get all fluttery now.

“Wow. I love these!” I enthused. But not for groceries. “They would be great for traveling to the tropics. In the rain forest. Like Ecuador,” I chirped. “They would dry so quickly after a cloudburst. They’re so lightweight,” I rambled on while the nylon bags kept closing as I tried to shove frozen foods inside. I reached for a cheery red bag. Then a yellow one. “Yes, I sure could have used these when I lived in the Middle East.”

She blinked a couple of times at my chatter—way more than I usually say—but that’s how I handle my nervousness sometimes.

Slower Pace

Adjusting my bagging to the various-sized types of bags slowed me down. To bolster my confidence, I recalled the compliments of previous customers: you’re such an organized bagger! You do such a nice job. Very efficient. So helpful and kindly. You go the extra mile to ensure my groceries make it home safely.  One customer had offered me a tip for taking special care when ringing up her many cans of cat food.

At one time on that first day, a typical problem came up with one of my regular customers. She had grabbed a sack of oranges with no bar code. We had to wait for a coordinator to locate a bag with a bar code. Not an easy feat since the customer had purchased the last one. The delay made others in line wait.

Disgusted, one of the ones forced to wait ranted. “Shopped for 15 minutes. Waited for 20. I’ve been here long enough.” She glared at me.

“So sorry.” I handed her the receipt without reading out the number of reward perks she’d earned. I was about to add, “Bit it wasn’t my fault. I’m not authorized to ring up a product without a bar code or a transaction number.” Then I remembered “But” statements negate the apology and kept silent as she stalked off.

At the Close of my Shift

The majority of transactions taxed me that day. By the time I clocked out, I felt exhausted. And it had only been four hours! This. Was. The future atmosphere. Of my job.

My hands ached from the scanning wide mayonnaise and pasta sauce jars. My eyes ached from scrutinizing the screen. My forehead throbbed from new bumps. And my brain hurt from concentrating so hard.

Oh, I wanted to quit.

Halfway to the the breakroom as I swung my cane back and forth, I stopped and laughed at myself.

Quit? No way!

Maybe other cashiers didn’t need magnifying glasses or bump their heads bending down to reach for bags—but we all faced overwhelmed customers and needed to experiment on how to put a positive spin on our environmentally-friendly bags.

The idea of me quitting—even hypothetically—seemed ludicrous. That would leave the other cashiers in a lurch. They would be forced to work longer hours.

I certainly needed an attitude adjustment.

Looking to What Lies Ahead

Transitions caused uncertainty.

But better times lie ahead.

We can’t base our worth on how we feel about ourselves in the midst of the temporary. Of change. The apostle Paul said:

I press on … No, dear Brothers and sisters,  I focus on this one thing:
Forgetting the past and  looking forward to what lies ahead…”
— (Phil 3:12-14)

While the context of Paul’s statement referred to him living out his Christian faith, his acknowledged his past errors. But he didn’t let his mistakes or even misguided good intentions hold him back. He didn’t bemoan his regrets. Instead, he looking forward to running his best race and reaching for the prize waiting for him. He didn’t focus on the problems he faced.

And neither should I.

The way I respond to life’s everyday challenges reflects my faith. I needed to encourage myself and my colleagues. We’re in this together.

Cull out the Positives

God will bring them.

And bring them He did.

The next day a few more smiles from our customers surfaced and smoother transactions resulted.

I felt more in control of the screens and what to say.

A Shining Light

On the third day, conversations with other cashiers helped me to see I finally had a pretty good grasp of how to ring up our new bags..

Toward the end of the day, a customer came through my line.

“Can you look up my card through my phone number?” a woman asked.

“Of course.”

Though I had not recognized the blurry figure outside her office, I did catch her name on the screen right in front of my nose.

My hearing aid specialist!

This woman always made me feel so good. She cared about her patients.

Like I should care about my customers. Such an example!

What are the chances of one of my favorite specialists coming through my line?

I could see God’s hand in the gift He brought me. A smile. Sweetness. Compassion.

While ringing up her purchases, I blurted out, “My left hearing aid keeps coming out of my ear.”

Instant concern. “Oh no. Call me and we’ll get that taken care of.”

I didn’t make any mistakes in that transaction. What’s more, I could feel the tiredness slip away. I had a lighter step … and a lighter heart.

What transition are you facing now? How have you found optimism? Hope? A Lighter Step? Share in the Comments below.


You have just read “What? No More Plastic Bags!” by Amy L. Bovaird. © April 26, 2020. All Rights Reserved.