Sometimes I think about my last semester of college and my Bag the Bag project and wonder, was that really me??
It all started in Australia, where I was introduced to the concept of using cloth bags instead of plastic when shopping for groceries. Believe it or not, the idea of not using plastic had really never occurred to me before then. But when I got back to the States, I had picked up the reusable bag habit. I watched as students and townies alike toted crinkling stacks of plastic bag-covered groceries out to their cars and found that I couldn’t stand the sight of plastic anymore.
I had nothing but the idea – that I would try to convince people to switch to reusable grocery bags – and my intuition. I sent out emails, casually brought it up in conversation with friends…slowly connected with campus organizations, the Sustainability Office at UGA….I was looking for a pre-existing campaign to which I could attach myself, but, having come up with nothing, I realized I would indeed have to start this thing on my own.
I interviewed random students on top of Ag Hill about their grocery bag habits. I stood outside of Kroger and tallied up the reusable bag users, along with their gender and approximate age. I studied other reusable grocery bag campaigns and searched in vain for one that could serve as a framework for me.
UGA Students for Environmental Action allowed me to come in to their meeting and present myself to their members. At that point, I still only had a general vision without specific goals or notions as to how I planned on getting there, but I wanted more manpower, so I gathered a committee, and things started to feel official.
We had a meeting. We talked about different routes we could take, discussed how I wanted to confront the issue from all sides simultaneously, and that we would need to work hard, likely with very little results, because, as I had learned through my readings on Community-Based Social Marketing, educational campaigns are the least effective in producing change. (Policy is the most effective, FYI.)
Bag the Bag, as we decided to dub ourselves, effectively served as an informal class for me. I spent hours upon hours reading, researching, updating social media, and, most importantly, meeting with community members.
I met with the manager of our local Kroger’s, the head of the solid waste department at the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Division, and some representatives from UGA’s Office of Sustainability; I communicated via email and telephone with one of our county’s commissioners concerning the prospect of policy change; I collaborated with the community coordinator from our local “green” grocery store, Earthfare. It was starting to feel like people within the green community in Athens knew about me and my project, even though we didn’t have anything to show for ourselves.
We needed bags. Reusable bags. And they needed to be free so we could give them out to people.
Money. We needed money.
We held a three-night bake sale on the post-midnight streets of downtown Athens, encouraging drunken bar-goers to have a cookie, why not, they’re only two dollars and it’s for a good cause…! We raised some money, but not enough.
One of our committee members, Laura, designed a logo. I ordered the bags using the money we had and some donations from my parents, which I promised to reimburse. And I did – after we applied for and received money from the Student Government Association. To get that money, we had to explain and justify our campaign to a round table of important people.
We made a trifold and attended tabling events. I presented at no fewer than seven sorority chapter meetings, including one in which I put on a good 15-minute Powerpoint-assisted show. I spoke in classrooms. I had an opinions piece published in the school newspaper.
And in my final weeks of school, just before graduating and as my last BtB stand, I gave a 40-minute presentation to my Intro to Public Health class on the process of creating a Community Based Social Marketing campaign using BtB as an example.
It was this thing in my head, and then it became a thing in real life. And now it’s thriving, growing, continuing to exist, without me. I feel like a proud parent cheering on my little baby from the sidelines. I’m so genuinely amazed to see that Bag the Bag has, since my leaving Athens, registered as an official UGA student organization. Tiffany, the campaign’s new leader, was featured on the front page of the local newspaper for her reusable bag efforts.
As I witness the campaign continue to develop from my perch far, far away, I feel pangs of nostalgia. It’s bittersweet to remember the drive and passion with which I worked on BtB because it reminds me what it felt like to feel purposeful.
I’m grateful to have known that feeling, so that I can seek it out in my future endeavors.