Stupid Tuesday questions, deviancy edition

My friends, I come to you today to confess.

I have tried to live my life the way a Good Liberal(ish) person should.  I just re-upped my membership with the local NPR station.  Every time a new decal appears on my bags of coffee beans, I try to steer my purchases toward those with its benison.  (Right now I’m aware of “organic,” “fair trade” and “shade grown.”  I’m probably missing at least one, but I make up for it by buying stuff that’s locally roasted.)  I send my kid to the local Montessori school and donated an item to be included in their upcoming benefit auction.  I recycle assiduously, and plan to start composting again any day now.  I drive a Prius!

But still I write to you today a broken, penitent man.  No matter what I do, I know I cannot cleanse myself of the blot that continues to stain my soul.  Why?

I can never seem to remember my reusable bags at the grocery store, and thus continue to slowly choke Mother Gaia with plastic.

It’s not like the store doesn’t try to be helpful.  “Did you remember your reusable bags?” the sign by the entrance politely inquires.  And just about every time I pass it I swear softly under my breath.  Our home has an ample supply of them, which I never think to toss back in the car.  The Better Half is a much more virtuous soul, and seems to remember them much more than me.  But even on the glorious days I actually think to bring them, I never remember to put them back in the car once they’ve been emptied.

So that’s this week’s question — do any of you join me in deviating from the Right and Proper Ways of All Decent Americans?  Though I am more familiar with the mores on the leftward side of the dial, I know that you conservatives out there must also have social expectations that press upon you, so feel free to share!  Come, ye who are heavy laden under the weight of your sins against society, and I will nod sympathetically.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I subtly shame people using plastic bags at the supermarket.

      • Why not walk to the store with a bookbag on? I find that helps me to remember it… 😉
        (hauled 48 cans of soda home in my Keltie… that was over a mile’s walk. Wish I had some heavyweight boots, I’m surprised I didn’t break an ankle)

      • Just draw an extra leg on the P and tell people it’s a merit badge for recycling.

    • I deliberately stopped bringing reusable bags. This is so that I can re-use the shopping bags to line the trash can.

      • I used to do that, too. And cat litter. I’m so pissed it’s now the law in my area to charge for bags.

        • They only add an extra 10 cents to my bill for using plastic bags. When I rack up a $250 bill, the 10 cents is hardly noticeable.

  2. I don’t know if this counts, but we bought a new car. I cannot begin to describe the many ways that this is contrary to the way that I was raised. I ran the numbers and did the research and it was the most practical thing for us to do. But there are things that Trumans and Himmelreichs just do not do, and one of them is buy a new car.

    • Used cars are a much better deal. I’m never going to buy another brand new car again. I’ll only buy a 3-5 year old honda or suburu.

      • Out of curiosity, when is the last time you bought a car? I ask because I heard that things really started to change when we bought the car. What you describe is almost exactly what I had in mind going in, but the numbers just didn’t add up. I created a spreadsheet where “Okay, if I drive it to 100k miles*, which is cheaper per-mile? 150k miles? 200k miles?” and new kept coming out better or really close (and that wasn’t even accounting for repair costs).

        * – A/(B-C) where A = Cost, B = goal (100k/150k/200k), C = miles on car so far.

        • Those are pretty low estimates for a Honda or Toyota that you really intend to maximize for miles driven, I think – though not for a situation where you actually intend to bail due to unpleasant driving experience at some point well before mile maximization. Which I assume is likely the case for many people considering buying new versus a relatively new used car, and why it often does make sense for people to buy new after the service plans, warranties, etc. are factored in. But I would think it’s never a no-brainer. (Full disclosure: I’ve never bought a car in my life and hope I never do.)

          This is of course also subject to the “It’s can be really expensive to be poor or even not pretty well-off” problem to an extent. Not everyone can afford a new car, so they might actually be forced into a less efficient purchase. (Just like a person who has to afford food by the week never really has enough money to stock up on, say, toilet paper to the extent where you can actually save money on it. Etc.) But y’all were assuming the resources to actually make the choice, so see above.

          • Those are pretty low estimates for a Honda or Toyota that you really intend to maximize for miles driven, I think – though not for a situation where you actually intend to bail due to unpleasant driving experience at some point well before mile maximization.

            Depends on driving habits. Assuming 12k a year, that means you have the car until it’s approaching 17. More mileage means reaching it at a younger age, of course. If we were looking at a vehicle back when I was driving 100 or more miles a workday round-trip, that obviously would have affected my calculations. If I recall, the turnover where the low-mileage used starting beating out the new was around 250k.

            I actually calculated it out (based on what a mechanic told me) and at least in theory the best thing to do is to purchase a car that’s 8 years old or so and put the rest of the money aside for a new engine and transmission. Within a few years, you’ll be driving a car with a new engine and transmission for less than a new car costs. Of course, you’ll have other repairs. But mostly, you’ll have constant fears of reliability. I would totally love to do this, though, for all the wrong reasons.

            But I would think it’s never a no-brainer.

            Agreed. “For us” was a pivotal part of my comment. We were looking for a specific kind of car (Subaru Forester) in a specific market (well, two markets because we looked before and after our last move) with specific needs and goals. The same time that we were looking at new Foresters, I was advising a friend to by a very old Corolla. And we were doing this within the last couple of years, when the cost of used cars skyrocketed and new car dealers were offering deals to move cars.

            However, I come from a background where it’s a no-brainer to purchase used. So the fact that in our situation suggested otherwise was an exercise in humility for me, as I had been saying “smart people buy used” for quite some time. That’s why I feel like such a deviant.

            Clancy and I felt better about ourselves, in a twisted sort of way, when our cars were a combined 26 years old (even though we knew that reliability was about to become more important for us since we were wanting to reproduce in short order and therefore it wasn’t going to last).

            (Full disclosure: I’ve never bought a car in my life and hope I never do.)

            This is an alien concept to me. Alien!

            This is of course also subject to the “It’s can be really expensive to be poor or even not pretty well-off”

            This is true. Even my above “buy the clunker and replace parts” idea above requires having the money on-hand to replace some rather crucial parts. We could only really consider the options we were because we were buying the car outright. The calculations change when you get a loan and have to carry a certain degree of insurance (we’re very covered, but with higher deductibles than would be allowed if we’d gotten a loan). This was the first car purchase where we really had options.

          • All maintenance is not the same. (I’m sure you know this)
            Alkyl-benzenes are a totally different animal from paraffinic oils.
            Changing the oil every X number of miles matters not in the slightest.
            The reason the oil needs changing is due to the accumulation of acids due to incomplete combustion. You can check that with a pH strip (which is the way it’s done with commercial equipment).
            I’m not going to go on and on about it and get preachy or anything.
            But the more expensive oil filters are usually a waste of money, while the more expensive oil is worth it.
            And making sure the gap on the plugs is set properly will reduce the amount of acids that the oil absorbs.

          • Never bought a car.
            More importantly, can’t afford a car.

    • I remember getting on my dad’s case over buying a new SUV (the Honda CRV, which he insists isn’t an SUV), despite him pointing out that it had better milage that our 10+ year-old sedan.

      When I get a car, it will definitely be a new one – I don’t know anything about cars and would be sure to get ripped off if I tried to get a used one. I’m thinking Honda Fit.

      How old was your old car?

      • well, see, that’s part of the point. buying a new car is an automatic ripoff, because you lose about half the value as soon as you pull it off the lot.

        • Yes, but at least you know the new car should function. When you buy a used car, unless you’re somewhat knowledgeable about cars, you have no idea whether it will work well, or break down a year after you buy it.

          • 3 years for a new Prius. Battery issues. Do your damn research first, just like buying a house. If you need to take it to a mechanic, do so.

          • Russ,
            It may be that you don’t live in Appalachia. 😉
            We will NEVER use natural gas powered buses around here,
            we need too much power to get up the hills.

        • That’s what I was raised to believe. I think it used to be true. Logically, it should be true. Yet, the value drop-off for Subarus both where I previously lived and live now is surprisingly small. I think it’s due to a tighter supply market for used cars compared to new.

        • Well, try this. Assume that your car will have a lifetime of 120,000 miles (or whatever). Divide the price by the number of remaining miles. You might be suprised.

          Particularly for Hondas and Subarus, the cost per mile is almost identical. Except that, with a new car, you get

          Certainty that the car was maintained correctly in its early life.
          A warranty that will assure you of no repair bills for the car’s first two or three years.
          The benefits of car makers’ newly-revived interest in high gasoline mileage
          That new car smell

          As for myself, I vote “new car.”

      • My previous car was about twelve years old. It was a domestic, though, and wasn’t going to last much longer. I still see it being driven around town, though, which always makes me smile (I sold it to a really nice couple of college drop-outs trying to make their way, so I really want it to work out for them). My wife’s Camry is almost 16 years old with 150k miles. We’re hoping to have it another couple years. After it, we’ll probably be looking at Priuses (if we can ever get a straight answer on the battery issue), another Camry, or maybe something larger like a Highlander depending on the family outlook. I’ll run the New vs. Used calculations again to see the comparative value. Things might shift by that point back in favor of Used.

        The CRV is in the same class as our Forester. It’s a “crossover SUV.” It gets substantially worse mileage than the old Escort (compact) and the Camry (mid-size), but is competitive with larger sedans. I’m not sure why anyone would buy a larger sedan. If you need the room, get a crossover!

        Back before we were looking for family-friendly, I was looking at compacts. The Fit looked pretty good. I liked it better than the Yaris. The Versa was disappointing on mileage. As a big guy, I was surprised at how much effort is being made to help big people fit into those small cars. In the Escort, I kept changing the radio station with my knee!

      • We have a Honda Fit. It’s loud and the door lock situation is infuriating, but other than that, we’re very happy with it. Great mileage, can fit tons of stuff.

  3. 1000%. We can’t come up with a system for remembering them. And have far less of an excuse now that we have an attached garage as opposed to having to go down 4 flights and across the complex.

  4. I do that frequently – or more often, remember to bring one or two bags but buy so much stuff that I need to get the plastic ones as well. It’s rare that I don’t need to get any plastic bags at the store at all. The only upside is that I can use some of the bags I get that way as garbage bags, but I’ve still got far more plastic bags than I need and even sometimes just throw them away. It’s ridiculous, especially as most of the stores in my area now charge $0.05 per bag.

    There’s really no excuse, as I have three excellent little fold-up reusable grocery bags that fold up to maybe two square inches in volume but hold a lot of groceries when unfolded, and I still forget to bring all of them to the store. I also have a non-collapsible reusable bag that I never use.

    The collapsible ones really are great, and I use them for a lot of stuff other than shopping. You can keep them in the glove box of your car and then you’ll at least never forget to bring them TO the store, though you may forget to bring them inside. They’re called Envirosax.

    • I too use the plastic bags as trash bags.
      I see it as re-using reduces consumption.

      • Ditto. plus, we recycle the garbage bags. (and the cardboard boxes from Costco, which are far more efficient.

      • The plastics work perfect for cleaning out the litter box.

  5. One is recycling: my neighborhood in Chicago just got recycling bins. For literally years, I’ve been saying “if the city only gave us recycling bins, then I’d use them.” But I still catch myself throwing away perfectly recyclable stuff. (Imperfectly recyclable stuff, too: I threw away an empty bottle of bleach yesterday because I wasn’t sure if it would be too toxic for the sorters, even though the bottle was in “Number 2” plastic….I’m not sure how much worse the residual bleach would be for a landfill, however.)

    Another is the reusable bags thing. My girlfriend almost always remember. I would remember, too, but I’m too shy to actually tell the cashier that I have reusable bags, so I don’t use them. In fairness to me, I reuse the plastic bags for a lot of things (they’re great for waterproofing books for when I have to walk in the rain), but we have a lot more of those bags than we need, and I often throw them away, too.

    • But I still catch myself throwing away perfectly recyclable stuff.

      I’m guilty of this as well. My wife, who’s done the work of starting a compost, would be justified in slapping me upside the head at least once a week. At least.

    • Bleach? please, that’s HIGHLY water soluble. run two or three rinses of water through it and it’s done. You use bleach to clean the kitchen sink, right?

      • Kimmi,

        You’re probably right. I just didn’t want a sorter to be splashed in the eye with any residual bleach (and I didn’t want to rinse out the jug….chock it up to laziness on my part). I realize they probably are prepared for such events–and that putting a truly toxic substance in, say, a landfill is probably just as bad–but I had a brief concern last night.

        I’m not the cleanest sponge in the kitchen, I guess 🙂

        • Sodium hychloride in 3 – 5% solution.
          In 90 -95% solution, it’s one of the most common water treatment chemicals around.
          They probably use it in your city water supply.

        • As a rule of thumb, household caustics are fairly harmless when diluted in water. Their cleaning power is a function of their high alkalinity (concentration of hydroxide ions). Since hydroxide ions themselves are ubiquitous (found even in pure water) and benign in low concentrations, they don’t cause any problems. The other component of the caustic will usually be harmless as well; since there are any number of inexpensive and benign ions that are perfectly capable of delivering a hydroxide ion, there’s really no reason to use an environmentally toxic one. This is also why they tell you to drink as much water as you can if you swallow a caustic.

          For the same reason, most houshold acids are harmless when diluted in water, though it’s hydrogen instead of hydroxide.

          Or you can just skip all the chemistry and keep in mind the fact that pouring household cleanerrs down the drain is the normal use case.

          When in doubt, check the label for disposal instructions.

          • There’s a saying among the chemical guys that “The solution to pollution is dilution;” although this isn’t always the case, as with benzene.

    • I tend to “overrecycle”, putting anything and everything that might be recyclable into the bins. This might be the wrong approach, as I could imagine a scenario where a tainted bin just gets tossed entirely (baby and bathwater together), but I’ve also watched some documentaries on recycling centers and sanitation facilities and they seem to have pretty sophisticated methods of sorting. Plus, we have one day a week where they pick up comingled recyclables and two other days they pick up trash, and our bins are always empty on the former day, meaning they are taking us stuff with the rest of recyclables.

      I did read somewhere that household recycling doesn’t even matter anyway. It makes up something like 1% of potentially recyclable materials, with the vast majority of the rest not being recycled. No idea if this is true…

      • Depends. There’s tons of waste in pre-consumer materials.
        Still, my city makes a dang profit on the recycling (it more than pays for itself plus garbage pickup).

        So I recycle — means more money in da bank!

    • If I’ve learned anything today, it’s that it’s safe to recycle my empty bleach bottles, provided I rinse them out first.

  6. We’ve come along way. One used to need to burn people to inspire their confessions. Now writing a blog post will do.

  7. I’m trying to think of something, and I’ve having trouble coming up with anything that hasn’t already been used.
    I’m still mentally absorbed by the theft of a houseplant yesterday.
    And yes, I made a police report about a stolen ivy.
    I can’t believe somebody swiped my plant.
    I set it out to get some sun, and then poof!

    I suppose gardening is getting really competitive around these parts.

    • Someone stole your ivy? Where do you live, Ghomorra?! You have all my sympathy.

      Now me, I’m trying to sprout an advocado pit. It’s put out a root so I’m feeling hopeful.

      • You’re doing a lot better than me.
        I have a sprig of wisteria that I’ve been trying to grow, but I think I’ll have to take the kid with the lawnmower out with a rock to make any real progress on that end.

        Ivy: -1
        Wisteria: >0

      • That’s the second time today that someone has mentioned trying to sprout an avocado seed. Was this on TV recently, or some web page making the rounds?

  8. AL CHAIT:

    I forget bags, even though the place where I live now charges per bag.
    I love steaming hot showers, and will not give them up.
    Lots of A/C in summer (but I do get migraines otherwise).
    I don’t breastfeed, co-sleep, and only wear a baby if he won’t stop crying and I need my hands for something.
    I often buy non-organic produce (am better about animal products).
    I sometimes forget to recycle.
    I sometimes don’t forget to recycle, but am too lazy to pull the plastic out of envelope windows.
    I sometimes buy bottled water.

    Forgive me, pardon me, grant atonement to me.

    • I too do not pull the plastic out of envelope windows, and I will neither give up hot showers, nor will I buy a low-flow shower head. So even showers of short duration are probably too water-consumptive to be considered environmentally responsible. What’s more, I eat meat harvested from animals raised at factory farms, and salmon raised in fish farms. My clothing and electronic devices are, for the most part, made in east Asia, likely in sweatshop conditions. Yet somehow these facts do not enter my mind very often, and thus these moral failings of my consumer choices do not bother me on a day to day basis, especially when I spend an extra dollar once a month or so to buy “fair trade” coffee and thus assuage the guilt I am told I must feel because of how I spend my money.

      I know, I’m a monster.

      • I know, I’m a monster.

        The first step to getting help is to admit you have a problem.

        Well… in theory, anyway. You? You’re beyond help.

        • Doc, I’m sorry to say, but you folks need to get out and tour some industrial facilities.

          a/c: Humidity control is as important, if not more, than air temperature. Optimal is 40%.
          It takes 4 times as much energy to heat or cool water as it does air.
          Open your house up on days when the dewpoint is low.
          And turn you a/c down by 2 or 3 degrees before going to bed. You need a few ten minute cycles through the night to prevent the humidity from creeping up. (You can get the same effect with a timer, but that’s sort of unusual except in commercial applications.)
          A digital thermostat is a must, but look at what you’re getting. Some of those have a plus-or-minus 3 degree error (physically impossible for any measuring instrument to be 100% accurate). The mercury bulb type are typically plus-or-minus 6 or 8 degrees.
          And don’t ever turn off your a/c when you leave the house. That makes the humidity spike.

          Showers: Get it as hot as you want. Don’t matter.
          What matters is where you have the water tank set at. Most of the energy is used by keeping the water hot and ready to use when it’s not in use. Commercial facilities typically have a pre-heater for this (it’s another water heater that is set lower, and it feeds the water heater).
          There is no hot water pressure in your home. The pressure comes from tying in the cold water line to the hot water line during the rough-in.
          Turn the water heater down, and dial up the knob more.

          A water saver fitting is a little piece of rubber with holes in it that fits behind the shower head. If you have a low-boy water heater, you need one, or you’ll run out of hot water while you’re taking a shower. The pressure is constant, because it’s determined by the cold water pressure (the same as you get from the outdoor spigot, which is where it’s tested at).
          If you’re not getting enough water flow through the water saver fitting, you can ream out a hole or two with the small blade of a pocketknife, or even cut the thing in two and leave only one half of it in.
          If you’re really concerned about water usage, you can divert the drain from your washing machine to a hose to water your lawn. Laundry detergent is rich in phosphorus.

      • Hey, sweatshops are good!

        Farmed fish, on the other hand? You monster!

    • With my workout schedule, sometimes I shower twice in the same day. And if I’m feeling REALLY frisky, I’ll turn the hot water all the way up, close the doors, and turn off the fan and just bask in my homemade sauna.

  9. There is a very real possibility we will be mining our landfills in the future for resources. A ton of garbage will need to have a given quantity of metals, plastics and such to make it worthwhile.

  10. One store near us gives a free bag if you buy $50 or more in groceries. The bags are big and strong and can often hold the entire load when shopping for 2 (the store is a local version of a Whole Foods, so it is not hard to spend $50 buying meat and produce). It seems to be a pretty good system. We have about 3 or 4 bags from there, though we’ve probably remembered to bring them back 1/10th of the time.

  11. Ecch, here’s my theory on recyclables. Soon enough, we will start mining the garbage dumps: the value of their contents, combined with advances in sorting technology will justify it.

    A few problems will arise, not least of which are privacy issues. All those Hefty bags will contain pristine artifacts of our disreputable and often quasi-legal lives. In the far-distant future, more distant than the Future Miners, those historians will screech in horror, denied the pleasure of rootling around in our lives as we currently rootle around in the trash dumps and middens of medieval man.

  12. I do that thing with the bags all the freaking time. I wish they would just grow legs and walk out to my car so I don’t forget them.

    I feel bad for being wasteful in the summer. My favorite thing to do on a sunny, hot day is to take a long motorcycle ride just for fun. I like to take challenging routes through curvy country roads. In my defense, my bike gets 60 mpg.

  13. I hear you, bro. Women have it easier with their purses and whatnot; all we have is the back seat of the car. Are we supposed to leave our place in line and go all the way back to the car? Unrealistic.

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