My Twelve Minutes on Earth

Holding the future of earth in your hand


Humans like to say things like, “I am the maker of my own destiny!” It swells hopeful chests and gets entrepreneurial fingers itchy to get started. “The world is at your fingertips.” Go get ‘em.

In the palm of your hand, cupped tightly in the crease of your lifeline, lies my future. What will the humans do with me? How long will I last on this planet? What will become of the maker of us all, Mother Earth, depends on the humans’ decisions. Swinging from your fist, I await my fate.


A star is born from the bowels

I always knew I had a lot of potential. You’d be surprised, even scared, to know all the things I could’ve become. Maybe there’s still hope for another purpose in my life. I know I have it in me to do more. But do you?

Coming from such humble origins, it’s astounding how far I’ve gone. Up and at ‘em. I shot up like a star to my place of prominence in Earthling’s lives from the deepest, darkest place. Only through the loss of life could I be created. 

Layers of ancestors piled deep, pressing down to the core of the Earth, over hundreds of millions of years, until from their decay I became a drop of precious fuel. Life is now measured in nanoseconds, and from what I hear that’s how quickly the humans will discard me. Gone in 60 seconds.

If natural gas is one of your most valuable commodities, why is its derivative polyethylene considered “cheap plastic”? If time is money, I ain’t cheap, honey. You won’t manage to make a single drop of oil in your lifetime, no matter how much you get paid on overtime.

Grocery to garbage

As my contents jostle with each step, I fear I’ll break and spill onto the parking lot, for an undesired cousin reunion with the asphalt, for I am spread thin and cheaply made. Too cheap, considering.

Supermarket stores pay the paltry price of $0.02 for a plastic bag my size. Want my two cents, plus some? That cost gets handed off to you (no such thing as a free lunch) twice: at the storecheck-out and then in your municipal solid waste bill when you toss the bag in the trash and I get carted off to the landfill. Instead, you can earn a whole nickel by bringing a reusable grocery bag to Whole Foods.

I try to look big and important, full of the food that will sustain you for the next week. Hey, I could stick around for next week’s trip to the store. How about that, pal? You, me, and a case of beer, a quesadilla, and a Pepto-Bismol, just in case. I’ll do my best to hold them all. Most cashiers and baggers underestimate my potential, and they divide each item into a separate bag. What happens to all those bags once the fridge is restocked? Will the bags be reused? Will I?

Nope. After I’ve done my brief duty, you’re through with me, so you throw me out. I served my purpose for all of 12 minutes, clinging to your arm from the check-out to car, from car to kitchen counter. Fancy folk don’t even deem me worthy enough of holding their trash. No, they go out and buy a brand new pack of plastic garbage bags.

Back inside a dark place full of decaying material once again, I reflect on my trajectory. I’ll have another thousand years of thinking in the landfill until I degrade into tiny plastic pellets. Was it worth it? You sure seemed eager to have me hold that purchase in the grocery store. But wouldn’t it have fit just as well in your bare hands, backpack, or that freebie branded tote bag stashed in the back of your coat closet?

It takes 12 million barrels of oil to make the 100 billion plastic shopping bags consumed annually just in the U.S. Oh, the places you could go with all that oil, maybe for important research trips that would benefit all of society. Around the globe, two million bags are used every minute. A brief convenience for a single person, with lasting effects for the whole planet.

Trash to treasure is in the eye of the beholder

Could I have been molded into something more useful to society at the plastic factory? Humans are ingenious at inventing new ways to use petroleum and its derivative products. It’s post-production time that their creative juices stop dripping.

I was made into a bag, and I can’t complain. I pulled my weight in life, lugging around your stuff. But I feel empty inside afterwards, reduced to a crumpled wad. I envy a bit the voluminous plastic bottles and boxes that still stand up straight when empty. A creative eye sees them and transforms “trash” into craft projects.

A boundless imagination could invent many repurposed uses for an empty plastic grocery bag like me, giving me a longer and much more meaningful purpose in life.

I may not be too pretty by myself, but just wait until you get a bunch of us bags together. Have a crafty rainy afternoon and repurpose or upcycle a stash of bags. Braid, sew, and roll me up into baskets or bracelets, ropes or rugs, trash cans or cup coasters.

Reuse: If I haven’t ripped, bring me back to the grocery store for another round of shopping. Always forget? Fold me up into a flat triangle you can tuck into your purse or car glove compartment.

Recycle: If I got a hole (it happens, sorry, I’m not tough enough for pointy things like corn-on-the-cob), deposit me in the recycling container in the grocery store entryway, marked specifically for used plastic bags. No collection site? Request one with the store manager.

Break out of the plastic bubble

My raw material is a finite source. Only so many plastic bags can be made for each weekly trip to the supermarket over a lifetime. Reusing, repurposing, and recycling are a good start for existing plastic bags, but the future needs an alternative, sustainable material. No, I won’t take offense. It’s good for the planet to stop being sucked dry, and you could say I come from the core of the earth, so I take its good to heart.

What would life without plastic grocery bags look like?

  1. Happier animals: No bags lodged in bird nests or strangling a sea turtle.

  2. Prettier landscapes: No bags strewn along roadside ditches or embracing your mailbox in a windstorm.

  3. Better uses and products: Invest the petroleum in fuel for medical missions, or in making more composting tumblers and rain barrels.

No contest to cotton

In the heavy-lifting arena, my synthetic polyethylene plastic is no match to sturdy natural bags made out of cotton, canvas, and  jute. Really, they make me so cheaply that I catch a snag quicker than pantyhose. Not like these canvas tote bags, the jeggings of lady leg-wraps, if you will. I bet that hefty bag could lug a whole watermelon. I wouldn’t dare try.

Check out those thick, long shoulder straps for hands-free mobility. My stubby handles only fit around a weak wrist. Sturdy stitching all around. Made to last.

Convenience + comfort = something you’ll want to use…and reuse.

Go ahead, humans, toss me into the craft or recycling bin, then go get yourself one of those nifty totes!