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Worst Thing Ever: On the plastic bag, and self

Matt McMahon | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For my application to Notre Dame two years ago, one of the essays I wrote – answering the infamous “You have 150 words. Take a risk” prompt – was on my hatred of plastic bags.  No, I was not a tree-hugging activist who worried that their overuse and overproduction was destroying the environment. I was merely an annoyed son in a family with a mother who made it impossible to escape the all-encompassing utility that plastic bags offer. Although, in my defense, I do believe my convictions hold just as much weight as the former’s. Through my 18 years of living in my house, I grew to hate nothing as much as plastic bags.

And now, I’m sharing this personal essay with you to give context, so appreciate it, cause reading over it again two years later I think it’s trash – but I did use it to get into this university, so there. My essay read:

“I hate any and all plastic bags and not simply because of the environmental impact. My mom’s overuse of grocery bags, storage bags accompanied by twist-ties and Ziploc sandwich and snack sized bags haunts me.  Stemming from her mother’s similar obsession with keeping food fresh – she does not trust grocery stores’ packaging of cold cuts – I am afraid that it runs in the family.  My mom’s sister even individually bundles her garbage and recycling in grocery store bags to keep it clean and sanitary for disposal!

“I feel as though I can never escape plastic bags.  When I search through my pantry, the rustling of bags penetrates my ears sharper than nails on a chalkboard.  If I find a box of cookies I am interested in, I might avoid them because of the daunting task of opening and then refastening the plastic bags that accompanies eating them.  College cannot come too soon so I can flee this obsession with plastic bags.  Hopefully, like predicting hair loss, I get the likeliness to use plastic bags from my mother’s father; he still has a full head of hair and realizes the insanity of the women in the family.”

In hindsight, I may have been a bit extreme, yet I had a purpose in my writing, a strong opinion I needed to air on the overlooked subject of plastic bags. Getting to school though, as my mom sneakily packed away scores of various plastic bags, from single-zip sandwich to medium-sized trash, they slowly permeated my habits last year: this unfinished bag of Salt and Vinegar chips will go bad; I can’t afford that, better roll it up and stick it in a plastic bag. On rare occasions when I don’t eat the full ten dollars in weight of gummy bears I buy in one sitting, I calculatingly put that paper bag away in another bag to make sure they don’t harden. I even sometimes save plastic grocery bags I get from shopping to use for garbage later. These careful actions are not in line with the carefree lifestyle I saw myself living.

Now, I have preferences – the garbage bags with the built in drawstrings over the ones with the four flaps that you need a twist-tie to fasten, the double-sealed, oversized Ziploc bags over the more finicky slider-variety bags. I resent who I’m becoming: my mother’s son, my grandmother’s grandson and my aunt’s nephew. My future, of painstakingly securing and tidying all of my perishables and trash alike, scares me to no end. I thought I would remove myself from the suffocation of plastic bags that surrounded me as I got to college; instead, I embraced it, becoming what I hate.

Perhaps I was simply rebellious in my youth, unable to appreciate or accept the technical beauty and elegant advantage of these obstacles that always stood in my way. Or maybe I was just foolish and impatient, not realizing the rewards of delayed gratification that a little time spent fiddling with a plastic bag has to offer. Either way, I have seen the light shining through the transparent material. I have become an endorser of plastic bag, a supporter of securing, a proponent of the worst thing ever. I still try to stick behind my original view, but I can’t deny their usefulness and functionality – and that destroys my spirit. I worry about what other significant changes in heart await my future.


Contact Matt McMahon at mmcmaho7@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.