Monday, 22 October 2012

Bags Of Optimism Required

Plastic bags. They’re either the scourge of the planet or a harmless symbol of convenience, depending on your point of view. Just to be awkward I’m somewhere in the middle.

I’d like it to be easier not to use them. I see the Federation of Small Businesses has urged the Scottish Government to postpone a proposed 5p tax on single use bags as their members have concerns. I’m sure those concerns can be resolved.

I won’t go into the usual environmental background about the harm that plastic rubbish does - there’s bags of it (ho ho) - but I do wish government would shift the guilt away from ordinary punters and onto the big businesses that condition us into such unsustainable practices.

I’ve just read a great wee book called Requiem for a Species. It’s not exactly Chucklevision. But still great. Basically, damaging climate change is incredibly likely and it’s too late to do anything. Scientists can recommend actions till they’re blue in the face (or red due to the heat) but politicians will always water them down for fear of losing votes. The author, who also wrote Affluenza, talks about our “fetish” for growth and the way individuals are made to feel bad.

This hit home the other day in a certain supermarket whose bright orange carrier bags yell that they’re made of 50 per cent recycled material. What about the other half I wonder. I was buying a lemon and a bottle of wine. (Typical middle class Green. Yes the wine was Fair Trade and yes the lemon was organic and unwaxed.) I had to practically fight off the assistant who tried to bag my purchases. I would manage fine with my work bag and a deep jacket pocket I explained. (Typical bloke. What could possibly look unkempt about waiting for a bus with a bottle of wine poking of your raincoat pocket?) By contrast the shopper in front had loaded up a trolley with a dozen orange plastic bags of groceries and I watched as they wheeled them out to their car and lifted them into their boot. You’d expect me to roll my eyes and tut. But no. My thought instead was why hasn’t this person been conditioned into keeping a couple of small boxes or sturdy bags in their boot that they can reuse?

Part of the problem is supermarkets. They’re convenient to the point that you’re encouraged to load your trolley with piles of stuff you never intended to buy and then at the checkout you can fill as many bags as you need. It’s not in the retail behemoth’s interest to make you think about the carrying device on the way in. Don’t worry your pretty little head, we’ll help you scoop everything up at the end. And speaking of scoop, don’t forget the 2 for 1 in our ice cream aisle…

If governments truly recognised the damage done to the environment and people’s pockets by food waste they’d regulate the supermarkets that suck up the majority of our hard-won earnings. They’d enforce responsible retailing.

Instead it’s easier for them to give our money to a PR firm to punt the kind of individualised guilt that lets the culprits off. The Sunday Herald seems to have launched a monthly supplement full of this kind of thing - sponsored by a government agency. It even contains a sentence: “In fairness the supermarkets are doing their bit. M&S and Sainsbury’s have updated their guidance on when we can freeze their products.”

In fairness? In fairness! What was it that champion of retail Bernard Black said in Black Books? Don’t make me sick into my own scorn.

The supplement also highlights these guys who are trying to live without too much plastic in their lives. A noble cause but that’s exactly my point. We shouldn’t need martyrs who have to work hard at making responsible purchases of everyday household goods. We need to encourage more refill facilities for bulky items like washing liquids. And we need to force the big retailers to take back all packaging so they realise the scale of the problem and change their ways.

I bought loo roll the other day. Wrapped in plastic and on the back there’s a friendly symbol of an almost closed loop and a message saying the wrapping can be recycled at a store where facilities exist. Such facilities don’t exist at the store where I bought it. So, in the bin it goes where it’ll end up in a hole in the ground giving off greenhouse gases twenty times worse than CO2. (I know, I said I wouldn’t go into the eco background but it‘s bubbled to the surface like a pocket of, er, methane.)

Even worse it might end up going to a proposed incinerator along the A1 on the doorstep of Sunny Dunbar. Yup, if all else fails, burn stuff. That’s a good solution.

But never mind flimsy plastic bags or bog roll wrappings, the piece of recycling guilt that will probably tip me over the edge is our old telly. It’s a proper cathode ray thing and as documented on this blog a few weeks back it went kaput. The other day a friendly looking leaflet came through the door telling us about the wide variety of materials we can recycle at the local recycling centre. Tellies are included so I should do the decent thing instead of what everyone else seems to do - leave it out on the street in the hope it gets nicked or smashed and removed by council cleaners.

But because we’re already doing our bit (as very occasionally encouraged by government PR fluff) and don’t have a car I don’t see how I can get the telly to the recycling centre which is two miles away on a busy road. I even phoned Lothian Buses to ask for advice but they warned me I wouldn’t be allowed to board a 113 with my recycling as tellies contain “dangerous gases”.

The council offers an uplift service but it’s £22.50 and I’m damned if I’m going to shell out for a service car users get for free. To make the point maybe I’ll liberate a shopping trolley from the nearby evil plastic bag proliferating supermarket and wheel my TV the two miles along the busy road to the recycling centre. Yes, that’s exactly what I’ll do. While wearing slippers and a bathrobe. And swigging from a bottle.

You can make me recycle but you can’t guilt trip me into it. I intend to enjoy this.

1 comment:

  1. Taking my morning walk along the sea front this morning, I kid you not, I came across an abandoned tele face down on the beach.

    I don't drive or own a car either but use a tricycle as my only personal transport. It can get very difficult when the whole of society is built around assuming everyone goes everywhere by car.

    As for plastic bags, I am pretty good at trying to remember to take my own bags, but then I come from an age before plastic bags and when I would see my Mother and all other women on our estate walking to the shop with their baskets on their arms. But then of course, that was also before the age of the supermarket and food was bought daily.

    I've always said that "saving the planet" needs to start with the big boys. As in the companies. Why is it always the little person that is put out and made to feel guilty, when there is so much waste before it even gets to us. We never had all this packaging when I was a girl.