BAGS, GLORIOUS (or not so glorious) BAGS….

I originally wrote the following article in 2006 (so personally haven’t used plastic bags for shopping for the past twenty-six years). Even though it was written a long while ago and there have been some changes in terms of bags now costing money to use in shops, many people still continue to buy the bags rather than change their habits, and shopkeepers still ask customers if they “need a bag”. As such, the article is still worth a read.

I haven’t used plastic bags for shopping for about 6 years and it’s very frustrating to see the throw-away mentality that many supermarkets, businesses and shoppers still have. Make no mistake about it, as consumers, we have played our part, and grown lazy. So companies have responded by providing everything for us on a plate to gain our custom. But by supplying us with plastic bags, it provides retailers with much valued free advertising, which may account for their reluctance to stop providing them.

The “Bags for Life”, aren’t as robust as you’d hope. They last a few months or weeks if you’re lucky. Unfortunately they’re also made of plastic, as are the shopping boxes available at many supermarkets. The government are now considering a tax on plastic bags (because they’re concerned about the cavalier attitude with which supermarkets dispense millions of plastic bags to their customers, free of charge). This tax will inevitably affect retailers because they’ll have to pass the cost on to the consumer. Retailers are therefore finally being forced to re-think their position.

By removing the free carrier bags, as I understand some supermarkets have done (or at least they’re no longer on show), they promote themselves as ‘green’ instead, which is actually a way of turning the problem into another sales opportunity. It’s all clever stuff – “greenwash” at its best.

I remember some years ago b­­­­eing told by my contact on sustainable living at our local Borough Council that they’d had to close Cranleigh’s local landfill site because it was nearly full (as are most landfill sites apparently). It was also because it was leaking dangerous chemicals which were igniting into plumes of fire (that’s methane of course!). This same person told me that when visiting the site, she’d noticed a pile of newspapers from the 1970s. Because they were placed beside some plastic bags, they hadn’t biodegraded at all. And that was why she was able to read the date! This should surely give us all food for thought. It certainly did me, so I stopped using them.

Some people say they “recycle plastic bags” but really this is not the point. It would be best not use them in the first place! I work full-time as a self-employed person and work many unsocial hours. However, it only took me about a month to change my habits. I found alternative bags and baskets, it wasn’t rocket science. These bags don’t fill up my cupboards like the plastic bags and really will last me a lifetime.

There are some local groups who are trying to help the situation by providing so called ‘green bags’ for their local communities. This is a nice idea but these bags are often lined with plastic which rather defeats the object of the exercise. It would be preferable to join the national campaign to get our community to become a plastic bag-free zone. Any group that did this would get a lot of publicity. It’s no good waiting for ‘the right time’ as this is no longer an option. Communities need to press on with these initiatives and send out the right message.

As for the bags themselves, the fact is that no one bag can be the solution to all of our shopping requirements. I have about five bags of one sort or another that I’ve collected from a variety of places over the years. I also have two large strong carriers, which are made of rush or some such natural material (unlined) and I often place some hessian or cotton bags into these. If I’m doing a big shop, I take a couple more of these with me. I also have some lovely baskets, one of which was made by a local basket-maker, which I bought at Peaslake Fair – it’s probably my favourite. I keep one bag which folds up to practically nothing in my handbag. I make a habit of using these bags.

When shop keepers start to put my items in a plastic bag, I politely ask them not to and make a point of explaining that it’s because I don’t use plastic bags. If friends give me things in plastic bags, I’ve started politely handing the bag back to them! When I give things to friends, I tend to either wrap them in pre-used paper, or in paper bags that come with our organic veg box (the fruit is delivered in brown paper bags). It’s been easy once I’d made the decision, to stick with it. Apparently, it takes an average of sixty days to embed a new habit which isn’t long.

We really need to get our act together. As consumers we have enormous power. If everybody stopped using plastic bags tomorrow, what a difference that would make. Let’s stop being lazy and waiting for the government to make us change. We need to act now. Plastic as far as we know, takes at least 1,000 years to biodegrade. Think about it.

Sharon Duggan
Cranleigh Climate Action

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Cranleigh Magazine