I popped into my local supermarket on the way home last night. I wasn't planning on going, but somewhere on the Central line I realised that my fridge was pretty much empty and that a trolleyful of comestibles might be a good idea. And so it was that I ended up at the checkout with a motley collection of fruit, vegetables, Worcester sauce flavour crisps and 12-for-the-price-of-6 hot cross buns. At which point I suddenly noticed that, just behind the bloke on the till, an environmental sea change had occurred. Where the heck had all the plastic carrier bags gone?
Every time I've been to the supermarket for the past few decades there have been stacks of plastic carrier bags hanging ready and waiting beside the checkout. They may have needed careful ripping to detach safely, and it may sometimes have taken me well over a minute to prise apart the twin layers of plastic and shove my purchases inside, but those free bags have always been there. Alas, now displaced. Up on the hooks where once hung flimsy white pouches there's a new dominant carryall in town. The "Bag for Life", in all its hessian/jute glory, has been promoted to pride of place in the packaging department. Please buy one, or several, to cart your purchases home. It's the only truly green option you know. And OK, they'll still let you take some plastic bags if you must, but there's only a handful lying around, and the cashier'll shoot you a disappointed "planet-destroyer" look if you dare pick one up.
And hurrah for that, I hear you say. Plastic bags are a monstrous invention, scarring our natural environment and clogging up landfill sites for centuries to come. Imagine a better world where fields and beaches weren't permanently scarred with blue polythene, and where good citizens took responsibility upon themselves to use only reusable recyclable bags made from proper non-synthetic materials. Well I'm sorry, but that's not a crusade I'm yet willing to join.
I could have bought myself four big posh long-life unplastic bags to carry home my shopping last night, but I point blank refused. For a start all the designs were a bit, well, girly. Flowers and green writing and stuff, like we're all a bunch of swirly-dressed tent-dwelling hippies. And then there was the cost. Did I want to fork out 40p to carry my groceries home, or did I want to take the nice freebie placcy bags instead? No contest. But most of all I knew didn't want to buy big thick reusable carrier bags because, for me at least, they'd be even more wasteful than the plastic ones.
I popped into my local supermarket on the way home last night. I wasn't planning on going, so I didn't have four previously-used reusable bags stashed away in my pocket. Even if I'd previously bought four "Bags for Life" they'd still have been sitting at home in my kitchen when I arrived at the checkout with groceries to transport. For me supermarket shopping is a one-way homeward journey, not a two-way trek pre-planned with military precision. It's alright for you people with cars - you can store your environmentally friendly bags in the boot and always have them ready whenever the retail need strikes. But I don't want to have to lug empty canvas bags around with me everywhere I go on the off chance that I might decide to buy something, because I think I look stupid with bulging pouch-sized pockets.
I hope that the powers-that-be never ban plastic bags outright. Yes, plastic bags can always be recycled, and I always aim to recycle mine whenever the opportunity arises. And yes, I can see why reusable shopping bags are a great idea, and why as many people as possible should be encouraged to utilise them. But they'll never be the solution for unplanned purchases, like what I tend to make. And I fear we're all at risk of ending up with a kitchen full of thick, expensive, wasteful, un-reused reusable bags instead.