Please, sir, may I have less packaging?

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Anyone who's dared to bring plastic bags back to the grocery store knows the experience. You leap to offer the bagger your crumpled but still-viable has-beens. He glances down at the neatly hooked bags in front of him. He swings his gaze back to you.

He moves to assist another bagger suddenly overwhelmed by a fast-moving cereal box.

Such is the world of reuse. I'm not talking about recycling. Many people now sort their cans and plastic, happy in the virtue of sparing the landfill and underwriting all those splinter-free park benches. They think they're doing a good thing – even if designers are struggling to come up with enough ways to use all that shredded plastic.

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To try to live packaging-free in America is to be willing to play the fool. Reporter Samar Farah learned that during a week when, under some duress from me, her editor, she explored a bag-free, buy-in-bulk, tote-less-to-the-curbside lifestyle.

Suddenly, she found, plastic bags, cardboard, and styrofoam were everywhere. Convenience conspired against her. Harried store clerks were uninterested in alternatives to the nesting-doll method of wrapping up purchases. Cold stares met her entreaties to spare the extra paper.

If one thing became clear, it's that those who think the greenies are taking over the country are, to put it simply, wrong.

A mere decade ago, generic grocery stores and tony markets alike were charging 3 cents for every bag – and people sheepishly paid the price or triumphantly produced their own bags. Just five years ago, you could buy mesh bags in my market to avoid plastic altogether.

Last week, I couldn't find any.

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