Friday, 9 October 2015

09/10/15 - 5p Carrier Bags

English folk can be hilariously unreceptive to change. Downright angry about it, even. The recent government-mandated 5p charge for supermarket carrier bags is a case in point: it doesn’t really change anything for the worse – in fact, everything about it makes life better – and yet people are effervescently eager to get annoyed about it. Oh, it’s another tax, they’re trampling on our civil liberties like they always do, it’ll make every household worse off, it’s not proportionally weighted so it penalises poor families more. Oh, shut your noise. They’re not doing it to be malicious or pernicious. They’re doing it because humans use a shitload of carrier bags, and they should be using less. These sort of measures work. How hard is it to remember to take a few bags with you when you go shopping? Every other country seems to manage it OK – and at least you’ll still have the option to buy a few if you forget.

The fuckwads at the Daily Mail saw fit to plaster ‘CARRIER BAG CHAOS LOOMS’ over the front page on the day the legislation came in. (It’s also worth noting that the Mail actively campaigned for years for the carrier bag charge to be brought in – although hypocrisy at the Daily Fail is hardly news, I guess.)
I mean, really. What’s the chaotic scenario they’re foreseeing here? The supermarket checkout person says “Would you like a bag?” You say “Yes please.” “They cost 5p,” they say. “OK,” you reply, “here’s 5p.” Um… that’s sort of it. Anyone who feels that an interchange of this nature is sufficiently annoying to become enraged about is surely the sort of knobhead whose opinions can be fairly readily discounted.

OK, that particular sample interchange isn’t exactly what happened to me when I visited Tesco on the morning that the charge came in. I was paying for a few items at the self-checkout, and realised that there were no bags. Makes sense, of course – people would just take them without paying. So I summoned the assistant and asked for one. “You know that they’re 5p?” she said, as if I’d asked her something a bit dirty and seditious. I indicated that this was fine, so she very deliberately peeled one bag from the bunch she was clasping in a vice-like grip, scanned her ‘charge this customer an extra 5p’ barcode, then closely and carefully watched me pack my shopping up, as if I may be about to do something even more unhinged than requesting a bag. But I suspect that this militaristic suspicion was more to do with the staff member’s own lust for power than any kind of official Tesco guideline.
I’ve used that bag every day this week too. Still got plenty of life in it. The system works!
(Although from my observations [peering nosily over strangers’ shoulders], it’s disheartening to note that the vast majority of shoppers lie about how many bags they’ve used when the machine prompts them, as if they’re beating the system by hanging on to their five or ten pence. Yeah, stick it to the man, cheapskates.)

The bottom line is that we use too many carrier bags, and we shouldn’t. They aren’t single-use things, you can use them again and again. And the shops in question have to pay to have them manufactured and distributed, they’re well within their rights to charge for them, even if you discount the over-arching eco drive behind the idea. It’s only the fact that the government are now making the shops charge that’s got stupid people all riled up. Ooh, they’re telling us what to do. Let’s find a reason to be annoyed about it. I bet they get free carrier bags in the Bullingdon Club, they’re probably made of calfskin and orphan tears. Oh, stop. The supermarkets are encouraged to use the takings from all of these 5p add-ons to fund charitable works, it’s not the stealth tax that the Daily Express would have you foaming at the mouth over.

It’s interesting to note, incidentally, that a number of online retailers will refund you 5p per bag for each one that you return to the delivery driver. I spotted this when I got an email from Ocado recently, saying ‘you returned seven bags on your last delivery so we’ve refunded you 35p’. Unexpected. I tested this theory in the most logical way, by enquiring of them whether it’d be possible to offset the entire cost of my shopping if I were to amass enough bags to give the delivery driver. But, alas, they informed me that they’d capped returns at 99 bags per delivery, or £4.95, the spoilsports. Still, it’s worth picking those dead plastic bags out of hedges and trees on your way home every day, it all adds up… 

The other day, my wife observed a customer in the local Co-op abandoning all of their shopping at the checkout on principle, as they were too enraged to pay 5p for a bag to carry it in. That’s just insane, the only person they’re punishing is themselves – unless they consider their own rage to be sufficient nourishment to take the place of the tinned soup they were so ready to shun. Sitting at home, posting illiterate diatribes on Facebook about how the government’s fucking us over again and it’s probably all caused by forrins and immigunts.
Joke’s on them really, they’re missing out on a nice little carrier bag there. The Co-operative’s bags are printed with cheerful little suggestions as to what you could successfully repurpose them as when you’re done with carrying the groceries – a shoe cover in wet weather, a bathroom binliner, a dog poo receptacle. All very sound suggestions. But the fact that people need to be spoonfed such ideas is a bit of a worry, isn’t it? Here’s a simpler idea – reuse your carrier bags as carrier bags. Then you can stop bitching about your five pence pieces.

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