A polite message to all bag-thrusting retailers – when I politely decline the bag that you automatically grab for my purchase, it’s not because I fear you may charge me.
When I say with a smile ‘Don’t worry about the bag, I’ve brought my own’, you often insist that because it’s made from paper or perhaps because you’re an independent, the bag is free. Again, if I refuse, it’s not about whether I’m saving 5p.
It’s about something that is much bigger than that, it’s about saving the energy and water that are needed to produce the bag – through paper processing or extracting oil to create plastic, exporting the polymer beads to the manufacturer, and the engineering and transportation required to deliver your bag, a bag that in most circumstances I really don’t need.
And logically, why would I want a fresh new bag if I’ve come prepared with a reusable one from my bulging collection at home?
But the till is no place to explain that. It would probably come over as a lecture or irritate the people in the queue behind – and after all you are probably only following company policy.
Sometimes when you insist again that it’s free and I add that I’ve been reducing my carrier bag use for years before the charge, I’ve heard you say ‘Aw bless’.
I leave feeling patronised.
However, putting my own feelings aside, it strikes me that despite decades of campaigns and legislative steps to reduce waste, there is still much to do when it comes to putting collective responsibility at the heart of it.
And this month’s Latitude festival was another example. I applaud the organisers’ reusable plastic cups, fantastic facilities and clearly labelled bins for recycling packaging, food waste and even food containers but in 2016 my heart sighs at how many festivalgoers still didn’t pay attention. I watched a dedicated army of waste pickers as they rescued recyclables from the rubbish bins around the site and just hope they were able to do the same for the amount of recyclables that weekend campers left piled up in mixed rubbish bags around the overflowing waste bins. More collective responsibility would have seen more campers correctly using the recycling bins.
Step outside the festival bubble and expand that thought process to our homes, streets, villages and towns.
Do we still throw that old jar in the bin because we can’t be bothered to empty the contents? Do the loo roll tubes and empty shampoo bottles end up in the rubbish because we only care about recycling in the kitchen and not stuff from the bathroom?
Do we still chuck fizzy drinks bottles in the litterbin even though there might be a public recycling bin only a few minutes walk away on our route through town?
The only way we have any chance of moving this country forward in reducing our waste – on a planet that doesn’t have enough resources to sustain our needs - is by pulling together and supporting change.
For retailers, offering a ‘free’ bag is just the end of the retail process but when a shopper declines it, it is one step on an important journey towards waste prevention, which is just as important as recycling if not more.
Not all local retailers are automatic bag-thrusters but for those who are, please, there is no need to make a fuss if I say I don’t need a bag. Except the odd trumpet fanfare might be nice to celebrate the fact that despite my busy to-do list in my head I’ve actually remembered to bring my own.
Otherwise, with quiet acknowledgement simply take heart that between us we’ve saved another bag, leaving it there for someone who might actually need it.