While I'm doing the best I can right now to eat locally, and I buy as much as I can of other things from the local natural foods market, regular grocery stores are still a necessity for me. And where I live, that means Wal-Mart, since there's nothing else within 10 miles.
I've just started bringing my own bags to Wal-Mart. Yeah, you can bet that gets me a lot of strange looks, but I don't mind being considered the town tree-hugger. I mean, come on, in our wee town I already get double-takes as the Town Jew, and Partner and I are already known about town as the Town Gay Couple (though in a positive way - we've had all good experiences, but that's not the point of this post), so why should it bother me to get strange looks for entering Wal-Mart lugging a bundle of Trader Joe's bags?
It's such a PITA to check out there with your own bags, though, that it would easy to give up if it wasn't at the same time so funny.
My first attempt, I thought it would be easier to use the self-checkout lines. Bad idea. The self checkout lines weigh your item as you put it into their bagging area, which is not big enough to set a self-pack bag, and it yells at you and requires you to press extra buttons if you bypass the bags, then screams for help from the attendant if you press those buttons too often. Attendant was losing a wee bit of patience with me after about the twentieth (no exaggeration) time of having to reset my register, but she was far more patient with me than I was with the whole situation.
My next attempt I went through a regular cashiered line. It was an unusually empty night, so I thought it would be fine. The attendant, though very pleasant, just. didn't get it. At first she wanted to pack my things in plastic bags so that I could then put those plastic bags inside my bags. Uh, no. Not the point. Then she would scan an item, hold it out to me, and wait until I took it from her until she scanned the next item. Even though there was no one behind me in line, that clearly wasn't working for either of us. Finally she started just setting the item up on the teeny tiny little area on top of the bag carousel, which made the most sense overall, but also made it clear that I really should bring Partner with me for large shopping trips since the attendant scanned things really really fast, and I couldn't keep up with both unloading my cart and packing my bags, and I ended up making some poor packing decisions resulting in some squished hamburger buns in my haste to keep up.
Today's experience was the funniest though. I detoured into the garden area to pay for a tank of propane for the grill, which I planned to pick up once I finished the rest of my shopping. There I saw an amazing sight: A box of nice sized well constructed $1 each reusable shopping bags, marked something like "Paper or Plastic? Neither!" with Wal-Mart's name on the bag. I grabbed two to put in my cart since I needed more bags that fold up small and have a nice flat bottom, plus I'd forgotten to bring any bags with me. Then a short while later, in the "20 items or less" aisle, I started by asking the clerk if she had something I could use to cut the tag off the bags. No, she didn't. So I asked her to scan them first, then I'd use them to pack the rest of my stuff. She scanned them -- then started to put them in plastic bags. I stopped her, "no, I'm going to use them to pack the rest of my stuff." Clearly puzzled, she handed them back to me, the proceeded to start to pack the rest of my stuff in plastic bags. "No, please hand me the stuff after you ring it up so that I can pack it in these bags." Then here's the clincher: Sounding genuinely concerned and clearly wanting to be helpful, she said, "OH! Um... I don't think you're allowed to do that. I mean, you can do that but if your stuff's not in a Wal-Mart bag they'll stop you at the door and make you take everything out to check it against your receipt, so you really should just use the regular bags."
Sometime very soon I'm going to write to the general manager of that Wal-Mart, commend them on offering reusable bags, and strongly suggest that their next cashier training involve some information about how to deal with folks who have their own bags. [Edited to note: I wrote that letter on 5/30]. And since they seem to regularly reorganize the layout of their checkout area anyway, I'm going to suggest that some of their checkout lanes be set up to make it easier for folks to use their own bags.
Update: Check out what happened while I was out of town, hopefully as a result of that letter!