San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The Future Is in the Canvas Bag

My story begins with a normal visit to the supermarket, a visit that ultimately changed my life. You are probably wondering how a visit to the supermarket, of all places, could make such an impact, but it’s not like you need to go to Africa and stare deeply into the eyes of suffering children to know there is something wrong with this world. There are problems happening just around the corner from your house; you just need to open your eyes and become aware of them. After that, it’s your decision if you want to do something about it or not.

My mother and I were strolling through the aisles, checking items off the grocery list.

Fruits and veggies, check. Chicken and meat, check. Milk and yogurt, check. Rice and sugar, check. With the shopping cart full, we headed toward the cashier. Now, here came the problem. At the checkout stand, I asked the cashier if she could pack our groceries in boxes. To my surprise, she said the supermarket packed only with plastic bags, and that boxes weren’t even available. To make matters worse, she used a whole bag for just one two-liter ginger ale bottle. I thought this was absurd, so I took the bottle and put it in the cart with no bag, as I could easily carry it by hand. I gave her back the bag so she could use it to pack more of our groceries, but instead she threw it away because it was already “used.” I was outraged.

How can it be that with the effects of global warming practically slapping us in the face and the ridiculous rise of petroleum prices, supermarkets still cling to the idea of using plastic bags as the number one packaging product, and frequently the only option?

Don’t they already make enough waste with product packaging, the individual plastic bags in which fruits, vegetables and poultry are placed, the boxes used to transport the goods from the plantation or factory to the trucks to the supermarket, and the long receipts of all the purchases? These questions nagged on my mind, and I grew restless trying to find a solution to this problem.

During this time, our ninthgrade Enrichment Club was starting up, with the initial purpose of being a regular book club. Little did we know what lay in store for us.

Pretty soon, our whole purpose changed after reading our first book, “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn. This novel challenges readers to make a change in the world. This was the answer to my problem. It turned out that we all had the same uneasiness about wanting to make a difference, but we just didn’t know where to focus our energy.

Then we came up with the idea of creating a canvas bag campaign to offer people a viable solution to the problem of the irrational use of plastic bags. We started by designing a canvas bag, writing a proposal and initiating two fundraising campaigns. With the help of Christine Breitenbach, our LincolnSchool ninth-grade English teacher, the hard work began with weekly meetings to share, develop and organize our ideas. Soon, we were ready to sell the bags and aimed to sell 100 canvas bags at the Lincoln School Jogathon.

The goal was met, and besides selling all the bags, we got all our petition sheets signed, asking lawmakers to propose a law that would place a tax on plastic bags or ban them completely.

Now, with this mountain conquered, the campaign began the new school year with bigger goals and a broader vision, ultimately to change attitudes and to educate people on practical alternatives for sustainable living.

The members of the Lincoln School Canvas Bag Campaign Costa Rica hope that other schools and community organizations will follow our lead to help create positive changes in our communities, our country and our futures.

It’s time for Costa Ricans to give something back to the Earth. We use 168,000 barrels of oil to produce the 1.4 billion plastic bags Costa Ricans use each year.

Other countries are already eliminating the use of plastic bags. Some have introduced a levy, while others have banned plastic bags at checkouts. We need to follow their steps.

Ireland set a tax on the purchase of plastic bags and reduced their use by 90 percent. Bangladesh completely banned their use, plastic bags being the numberone cause of the country’s constant floods, as the bags clog the sewers. China has also eliminated the use of plastic bags, and South Africa, Kenya and several countries in Europe have also joined the cause.

Do you want to keep living in a world where plastic bags dominate our existence, making us dependent on their use? Do you want to keep living in a world where plastic bags are the most dangerous assassins to countless birds, marine mammals and sea turtles that mistake them for food or get entangled in them? Do you want to live in a world full of plastic debris floating in our oceans, clogging our rivers and streams and defiling our lands?

Purchase a canvas bag and use it as an alternative to plastic. Be procanvas!

Costa Rican Annelise Sauter, 15, is a student at the LincolnSchool in Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of San José.


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