Do you want a bag for that?

This morning, like most other Sunday mornings, I bought my Sunday paper (the Observer, since you ask) at our local newsagent. As on every other occasion I have bought a paper there, he asked if I wanted a bag for it. As always, I declined – I’ve given up pointing out the waste this habit causes. When I said, months ago, that I didn’t want a bag, and what’s more, they might consider the environmental consequences of offering a bag to everyone, he looked at me as if I was mad.
The use of plastic bags in this country is a disgrace. In other European countries, it is routine (as of course it used to be here) to go shopping with a sturdy shopping bag. Plastic bags are very much the last resort. German stores always sell very cheap, but durable canvas bags for people without a shopping bag. In Ireland, you can have a bag, but you pay for it – the result is that plastic bag use in supermarkets has declined – people use proper bags, or reuse their old plastic ones. Litter is reduced, as is the number of bags going to landfill.
The UK government considered such a scheme three years ago, but obviously decided it had more important things to do, even though the supermarkets were in favour. Maybe the supermarkets should just do it anyway- there must be some forum where the suits from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and the rest meet up. Why can’t they just agree that they will henceforth charge 10p a bag? And why not commit the profit from that charge to environmental schemes? Then they could show they had a conscience, benefit the environment, feel good about themselves, and it would cost them nothing.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Do you want a bag for that? by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

10 Responses to “Do you want a bag for that?”

  1. I agree and never accept a plastic bag for small items. I believe that plastic bags are illegal in India and that they use paper bags but I am not sure of the whole facts. I’ve found an old BBC report.

    Tesco sell lifetime bags for 10p each but I don’t see many people buying them. I have a few of these bags but admit to forgetting to take them with me when I go shopping. I wouldn’t forget them if I knew that I had nothing else to carry the food home in or that I would always have to pay a further 10p for each bag. Okay from now on, I will remember the bags, especially my freezer bags which were a bit more expensive 🙂

    Because we now buy a lot of stuff in bulk the old fashioned shopping bag isn’t used much these days – It’s inadequate and too bulky.

  2. That’s right. But reading that the Irish way seems so relatively simple with the effects so big – 18,000,000 litres of oil saved .. and so on, one wonders why such a Plastax isn’t being introduced everywhere.

  3. Thanks for the comments folks. Maybe we should campaign locally for the plas tax or similar. I will contact the major supermarkets to see what their response is, and report here if I get anywhere.

  4. I’m in the U.S.

    I always try to reuse plastic bags for things like lunches until they become unusable. But I can’t imagine canvas bags working here on a large scale. I see library goers and elderly women using them, but largely bags are not even allowed into stores here for theft prevention reasons. It could still work, where you leave your bag at the counter, as is common for backpacks and bags from other stores, but if everyone starts carrying canvas bags, then you’ll have as many canvas bags behind the counter as there are people in the store. Both a mishap risk for the bag owner, and an increasing inconvienence for stores, worst case scenario leading to retail stores posting signs to leave your canvas bags in the car.
    And thus, then end of the world.

    Maybe I’m being too dramatic.

  5. Yes, I think you are being too dramatic. Canvas bags are foldable.Mine stays in my pocket until I get to the checkout. It’s not practical for sdupermarkets to require you to leave bags anyway, and it’s supermarket shopping we are focusing on here. I like the US practice of offering paper bags as an alternative to plastic.
    Groovy hairstyle!

  6. I’ve just come back from a holiday in South Africa and over there we paid 25 cents per bag in supermarkets – we soon got used to saving them and reusing.

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