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The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN WICKERSHAM

A tale of two supermarkets

Environmental impact: Cloth bags and SUVs vs. plastic bags and regular cars

IT ISN’T the best of times, it isn’t the worst of times. It’s just an ordinary summer Saturday afternoon, and you are schlepping your reusable cloth shopping bags from the car into the supermarket. The big expensive feel-good supermarket with the luscious organic produce, the fair-trade coffee, the yogurt made from the milk of cows who are fully vested in cooperative bovine pension plans. The store has trained you well; bringing in the reusable bags is something you do now without thinking. Yet for some reason this afternoon, pushing your cart around, you find yourself thinking about bags, and about consumer psychology and environmentalism and peer pressure, about gasoline, about how and why people change their private practices in the interest of the public good, and about whether the value of such changes is real or mostly symbolic.

Let’s start with the bags. It took you forever to really get the hang of the reusable ones. A consumer psychologist might have identified eight different steps in the process:

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