• Kim F Vaughan

We won't save the world by charging more for plastic bags

We need to change our habits, transform our thinking and come up with some new ways of living if we want to save the world.

I have been reading lately about the plan to make retail outlets charge more for plastic bags and found myself ranting quietly to myself about how stupid that is. Don't get me wrong, that's not because I am outraged at a doubling in price of this ubiquitous item, but rather because I am scandalised that the plastic bag solution is still being offered at all.

Around 15 or so years ago (I am afraid my memory of exactly when it was eludes me), we went on holiday to Normandy in France. We stayed in a lovely little house in a small village and travelled to a nearby town to stock up with food and drink. As well as a lively outdoor market, the biggest supermarket in the town was run by Monsieur L, so we were well served with the local produce we had been looking forward to.

Our first visit to Monsieur L was memorable, though not in a good way. Overcome by the wealth of goods available to us, we soon filled our trolley with lots of amazing things to eat and drink, as well a number of kitchen gadgets, and wine that we had never seen in the UK. However, on arrival at the checkout, we discovered that this amazing retailer had banned the provision of plastic bags completely. No safety net for stupid English tourists or unprepared locals alike.

It took us quite a while to carry our goods to our car, back and forth with our over-ambitious hand-carried loads. Delicatessen cartons spilling oily unctiousness, chilled items melting in the summer sun, tomatoes spilling all over the place and wine bottles tottering precariously.

This one outing taught us very quickly that our next shopping trip would be infinitely more pleasurable if we brought our own bags or boxes. Overnight, our behaviour changed. We had felt the pain of our laziness and would not be embarrassed again!

This decisive approach to an ongoing problem saved Monsieur L a lot of time and money, educated people in thinking ahead to avoid waste, and I am sure that a calculation of the amount of plastic and carbon NOT being released into the environment would shock us with the simplicity of this masterstroke.

So why is it that, all this time later, we still offer the plastic bag, and think we can reduce the use of them by charging 10p instead of 5p? Why don't retailers just stop offering them at all? We would soon learn to go prepared with our old-fashioned shopping basket or our recycled cardboard box.

Could it be that someone, somewhere is making their fortune out of it?

Whilst I am ranting, there are a few other things that we could simply stop doing. For example, the charging of sugar tax. What difference does this make to the consumption of fizzy drinks and processed foods? At best, it makes those things slightly more exclusive (and therefore more desirable). Why do we keep on creating the demand? Who is benefitting from putting up the price rather than stopping manufacturing at source?

By the way, we used to have drinking water fountains all over the place, but no longer. No money to be made by providing clean drinking water, is there? No wonder the fizzy drink is considered a good solution for thirsty people.

The COVID pandemic may have done us a favour - working from home gives many of us more time to learn how to cook a proper meal, and involve our kids in the process. This could be a kick start to change, if we choose to take the opportunity.

I could (and will!) go on about many other things that would improve our world. For example, banning advertising ways to feed and normalise addictive behaviour.

Gambling, alcohol, eating too much, smoking /vaping. Encouraging people to believe that they will win big next time and change their lives is immoral. Drinking too much alcohol is an insidious toxin, however much fun it is at the time. Eating too much and not moving enough - so easy to kill yourself that way. Replacing the smoking habit with the vaping habit is changing a habit, not eradicating it. It may sound holier-than-though, but I have rewired my habits in several of these areas over the years and it is not easy. I still have far to go, and I don't appreciate those who prey on my vulnerability to make an easy profit.

And another thing! Why aren't we looking for a transformative way to travel about? Remember, Henry Ford's customers thought they wanted a faster horse, until the motorised truck was presented to them. We thought we wanted a better phone until Apple and others presented the smart 'phone' on which we can run our digital lives these days. The electric self-driving car is not transformative, but swaps one problem for another. Where does all that electricity come from? We are threatening to destroy the seabed to mine the rare elements required to make the right kind of power storage battery. And an adequate charging infrastructure will take years to put in place.

Where are we all going anyway? I live close to the M6 and it is always busy with people moving around the country, day and night. Why? I have hardly used my car at all the last year and am still standing. Maybe it's not just a transformative transport solution we need but a new mindset to question the trips we really need to make. Let's start with walking our kids to school. And overhauling the provision of affordable public transport.

That's probably enough for now. We are being asked to do one simple thing at a time to save the world, so let's not simply pay more for using plastic bags, let's stop using them altogether. The rest will surely follow, if we start now.

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