There’s no doubt that plastic carrier bags are a planet-wide blight – the buggers are everywhere, choking turtles and dolphins in the oceans (and just who are the witless trolls who think the ocean is a good place to discard plastic anything? It floats, you pillocks!), festooning trees and hedgerows everywhere (and thank you, dog walkers, for adding to this by leaving little plastic bags of shit in your wake wherever you go – take the fuckers home!).
Now then, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to claim that plastic carriers are virtually indestructible, and they’ll linger in landfill and hedges for hundreds of years. However, I have several Tesco bags, full of bits and bobs, scattered around my flat, and one of these has spontaneously degraded and reduced itself to small, friable, fragments. Why? I’ve no idea, it’s just a standard bag, and there are half a dozen other just like it that have conspicuously failed to degrade, so presumably something – or a combination of things – that I’d stashed in it has triggered this breakdown. If I can stumble upon this quite by accident, surely researchers should be able to come up with an answer? There clearly is one. So, scientists, I have the fragments of this degraded bag – would you like them?
M&S are about to introduce a 5p per bag “tax” on carriers, in an attempt to encourage people to go back to using traditional, infinitely reusable shopping, bags (note to M&S – selling reusable bags might be an idea, if you don’t already), and – insanely – they’re getting a huge amount of flack, instead of the praise they deserve. The hard-of-thinking (and, Jesus, don’t we have a lot of them in this country!), see it as a fee for a carrier bag, not as the incentive not to use the things that it is in reality. And, really, we just don’t need carrier bags, though I’m as guilty as anyone else, as they’re so handy, though for many years, before my disability became too severe, I used a rucksack to carry my shopping – much better than carrier bags, or even normal shopping bags, enabling far more to be carried in greater comfort (a rucksack, for example, doesn’t try and cut you fingers off if you carry it for more than a few minutes, like plastic does). For larger shopping expeditions I’d use a backpack – carrying 30lbs or so of shopping that way is a breeze. And no, I’m not some muscle-bound, hairy-arsed backpacker (though I used to be), I’m just a disabled guy who walks with the aid of crutches.
About five years ago I bought a large shopping bag, around £4, from Sainsbury’s (other supermarkets are available!), made from plastic impregnated fabric – it appears to be indestructible and is still in daily use. It’s so useful that you might think that Sainsbury’s would still sell them, but no.
When I emailed Sainsbury’s head office last year, and asked, given the uproar over plastic bags (it seems to happen once a year), why they didn’t still sell such bags, or re-introduce them, I got a torrent of marketing-speak which, boiled down, amounted to “Because we don’t,”.
If stores sold sensibly robust, re-usable, bags, people would buy and use (and re-use), them, but they don’t so we can’t. At least I don’t know of anyone who does (does anybody out there know?), and I don’t mean the 40p heavy-duty plastic bags that, while better than disposables, aren’t the real answer – and am I the only one to have sustained paper-style cuts from this material?
Whatever happened to string bags? Very easy to carry, weighing little and taking up very little room but, apparently, gone for ever.
Oh, you can still buy pretend string bags, made from what seems to be string vest fabric (indeed, they actually seem to BE string vests, died green and with the bottom sewn up – thank you, Lakeland!), and after a couple of uses they self-destruct, but what I mean is those bags that were made in the same way as traditional fishing nets – knotted, not knitted.
String bags do have a downside, though – stuff one in a pocket and, when you pull it out, it’ll drag everything else in your pocket out at the same time, so either empty your pocket first, or make sure there’s nothing embarrassing in there…
Almost everyone used them when I was growing up, men and women alike yet, some time in the sixties, they sank without trace and, apart from aberrations like the “vest bag”, show no sign of reappearing. A pity, because this is surely the ideal time for a comeback. Surely there’s somebody in Bridport, that centre of net production, who could knock these out as a sideline?
What about paper? American supermarkets traditionally used robust paper sacks to pack groceries (they may still do so for all I know), and my local organic farm shop uses paper sacks, too, which are more than adequate for transporting to the car and, back home, carrying inside (they don’t fall over in the back of the car, either). And come in very handy when collecting, or even buying, mushrooms – they should never be put in a plastic bag for more than a few minutes. So why can’t we switch from plastic to paper? The vast majority of shoppers at edge-of-town supermarkets seem to be car-borne, so I don’t see a problem (but they’d be a bugger if you had to take them on the bus, though, of course, this is where a rucksack comes into its own), and almost all of them take their shopping to the car in the trolley, so carrying multiple bags across the windy acres of car-park isn’t an issue.
I see, this morning, Gordon Brown has jumped on the bandwagon. I don’t suppose he wanted to, but if he hadn’t the Tories would have been bitching and whining by now (though no doubt some of them will condemn Brown for bandwagon-jumping! Anyway, having – ill-advisedly – chosen the borderline-unhinged Daily Mail as a forum, GB has announced that he wants to see plastic carriers banned.
Fine, I don’t have a problem with that, though it’s a tad simplistic, because a simple ban isn’t adequate – he needs to ensure that a viable alternative is easily available. After all, where does one buy a conventional shopping bag? I don’t know. Maybe he can encourage proper string bag production!