Where Z goes, others follow

I’m glad I finally wrote that shopping bag post when I did, or it would look as if I was responding to the news that M&S is going to charge for plastic bags again. They used to, you know, until about 30 years ago. It’s a relatively recent thing that they’ve been given away and it was in response to consumer pressure “I’ve spent £20 and you are charging 4p a time for plastic bags?” And indeed, they were quite expensive. It wasn’t just a nominal penny or so. A charge of 5p now, while making a sizeable profit (which M&S will give to environmental charities), is not really enough to notice.

You might wonder why the focus on plastic carrier bags? The point is that they are 100% unnecessary and that it’s something that, with only a small degree of care on our part, we can do without. It’s like turning off the tap while cleaning your teeth, or not filling the kettle to the brim for a mugful or two – if you do it, it becomes normal. Yes indeed, sometimes in the home a plastic bag is useful, for messy rubbish, cleaning up after your dog or whatever – but most of us acquire far more than we really need for that.

But there again, we can all get caught out. I keep bags in my coat pocket, in the car and often have one in my handbag, but a couple of weeks ago I was moved to call into Waitrose, and bought more than could fit in the two bags I’d brought. So the larger items went back into the trolley and then the car, unwrapped, and the rest went into one extra bag. If I’d not had a car, it would have been too much to carry actually, so I’d have bought less (when on foot, never use a trolley…).

It’s like a diet (don’t worry, I’ve another place to bore people about my diet). If you eat something you *shouldn’t* it’s better to accept it and work out why you did it and how you’ll make sure it doesn’t happen very often than to say that this proves that you are unable to diet and spend the rest of the day filling your face. Similarly, use as few bags as possible, make sure you reuse them – and for shopping if possible. When they are about to fall apart, then use them as bin bags.

It’s oddly satisfying, you know, refusing carrier bags. Al’s customers boast about remembering their own, but no one nags if they haven’t got one. They are offered a box (I also remember that supermarkets used to have a stack of boxes near the checkout for customers’ use) or an onion sack, free, or a cornstarch bag at cost price – which is 10p for a standard carrier bag size. I’m sure the cost comes down if they’re bought in huge quantity, but Al could buy plastic bags for a tenth of the price. If your local shop starts to give away cornstarch bags, remember that the cost will be reflected in higher prices.

15 comments on “Where Z goes, others follow

  1. PI

    This is one thing I’m not particularly green about. I use plastic bags all the time – in all the waste paper bins around the house for a start and to protect food from flies , packing spillables and shoes – I could go on. I always thought the stores ought to pay us for toouting their ads on our arms. So M&S are not going to be paid with a smile from me. Sorry if I sound like a grumpy old woman:)Guess I am.

  2. Z

    Read the articles, Pat, and you may change your mind. Come to that, look around in the hedgerows – I saw 4 plastic bags and a black bin bag in the trees and hedges yesterday, just in the mile of countryside between my house and Bungay. They’ll not rot in my lifetime, nor my grandchildren’s.

    Buy your biodegradable bags, and you’ll only use them if you really have to.

  3. Z

    You’re right, John – though you can get boxes that fit in supermarket trolleys and can then simply be lifted into the car at the end. If you know you’re going shopping, you can be prepared – it’s the odd impulse pop into the supermarket that catches you out.

    This is becoming such a bandwagon that I think the government may well act on it, so we might as well get used to using our own bags. When we do, then I’ll start campaigning for us to take off surplus packaging at the checkout and leaving it for the supermarket to dispose of.

  4. Monozygote

    I know! I was thinking of you when I heard the M&S news. You are a trendsetter (but we knew that already). Al must be so pleased.

    As I remember, M&S were one of the last stores to stop charging for bags in the first place (though in those days I think that was out of greed, not consideration).

    Using supermarket carrier bags when shopping by car really is unnecessary and indefensible, I reckon.

  5. Dave

    I have a canvas bag which I use for my daily shopping (bread, milk, newspapers, sausages etc).

    I have, I will admit, three supermarket ‘bags for life’ and a number of old plastic bags, but in fairness I have had the same bags for five years, and I take with me when I do my monthly supermarket shop.

  6. Z

    Al is really pleased, and so are his customers.

    Dave, I’m preaching to the converted I see. Your jars were all reused too. D’you need more marmalade yet?

  7. Z

    Plastic is very cheap, and it’s also light and impervious to damp, so it’s easier to transport (most bags are manufactured in the Far East) and to store.

  8. Blue Witch

    (I also remember that supermarkets used to have a stack of boxes near the checkout for customers’ use)

    I took that one up with Sainsbury’s head office about 18 months ago. The reason given to me for why they don’t? “Health and safety.” The biggest cop out on the planet.

    Over-packaging (supermarkets’ reponsibility) is a MUCH larger issue than plastic bags. As ever, putting the responsibility onto the consumer not the manufaturer/supplier is used as a smokescreen.

    I wish the WI one-day anti-plastic over-packaging campaign was carrying on. If every Nice Lady stood and took off all the plastic at the checkout every time, supermarkets would have to do something that would make a big difference.

    M&S were still charging for plastic carriers for food when I last worked for them in 1983. Bags for textiles were free, though, and had been for years before.

  9. Z

    I agree with you, BW, and I think the impetus has to come from us over it.

    I don’t agree that the bag problem is a negligible one, though, and my point is that it’s a matter that each one of us can do something about, rather than simply blaming ‘them’ and not taking responsibility.

  10. Gert

    I am very cynical of the supermarkets’ bandwagon jumping. Just the other day, in Tesco, buying a snadwich and a pack of biscuits I said I didn’t need a bag. Afetr paying and getting a receipt, the assistant asked me if I wanted a bag. I said I had already said I didn’t. “Did I get my green point?”. “It’s on your receipt.”

    Looking at receipt “No it’s not.” Shopgirl laughs.

    “May I have my green point please.”

    “You want a green point?” stupefied, amazed.

    “Yes please, it’s what I get for not getting a bag.”

    She had to call the supervisor who asked me twice in tones of rising incredulity “You want a green point?” By now,I was beginning to feel like Oliver! asking for more, the greediest girl on the block.

    “Oh forget it. It’s all a marketing joke to make your greedy company look compassionate.” Under my breath “Idiots…”

  11. Z

    Of course, you’re right, Gert. One of the writers in the Sunday Times today pointed out that few supermarkets overpackage their food as much as M&S.


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