On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I paid $0.05 for a plastic bag in which to place the whole wheat bread and organic fruit purchased at a local big box grocery store in Washington, DC.

Am I doing this right?

In 1970, I would have walked around the corner from my house to the local bakery to buy a loaf of bread made by people who live in town; I would have grown some fruit in my backyard garden or gone to the farmer’s stand down the road to buy fresh fruit from the farmer; I would have carried the purchased goods in my hands or in a bucket or in a bag that I had brought with me because that is what we used to do (we didn’t buy more than we could carry).

In 2010, I am concerned about my carbon footprint, the nutritional value of my food, buying locally-grown food and locally-made wares, and finding a place in my already-crowded work bag to stuff away my Made in China reusable bag.

However, living and working in a Metropolitan area has helped me to maintain a small, in comparison to others, carbon footprint. Yesterday, I walked to the grocery store – the weather was great. The whole wheat bread I bought is fortified with vitamins and minerals and each slice provides me with 4 grams of fiber — it tastes good. The organic fruits I bought probably don’t have pesticides on them or in them – they’re tasty, too. And, $0.03 of the $0.05 I paid for the plastic bag goes to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund. The plastic bag is made of a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and it is 100% recyclable – and I will recycle it at the convenient drop-off center in the same local big box grocery store where it was purchased.

So, we’ve inadvertently added a new layer of risk analysis to our daily lives. “Paper or plastic?” has evolved to “Paper, plastic, reusable bag?”  Earth Day, and the awareness it promotes, makes us think about the choices we make and whether or not we think these choices can keep the Earth, and ourselves, healthy and productive.

Has Earth Day lost its way as it has changed hands over 40 years? What message does 2010’s Earth Day promote? As stated by a talking plastic bag created to promote Florida’s statewide bag recycling campaign: “Gimme a second chance! Don’t treat me like trash.

We are beholden to the talking plastic bag.