Sunday, November 14, 2010

Polyethylene and The Shopaholic

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

The above is one of the many memorable quotes from The Graduate (1967), where plastic was probably the field which promised a promising future, allowing fresh graduates to build castles on orange clouds with dollar bills. 

Fast forward to 2010, plastics have been relegated to the status of the evil invention that could possibly spell the end of humans on planet earth for the same reason their existence was celebrated not too long ago - their ability to stay in their form without rotting. For this very reason, the state government of the state I live in started introducing the 'No Plastic Bag Day' campaign since January this year. Every Saturday, shoppers were deprived of their usual plastic bags (degradable or otherwise) and were encouraged to use other means, either in the form of environmentally friendly hemp bags, knapsacks, or their own recycled plastic bags. If they insisted on a plastic bag, it would be charged at 20 sen a piece (approx 6 US cents)

The other day, an online newspaper (which I only read because they have reader feedback that serves as the immediate countermeasure to insurmountable boredom) ran an article claiming that the lack of free plastic bags on Saturdays may have effect on how the people in the state will vote in the future general elections. (In the previous GE in 2008, some of the people collectively voted for an alternative government, which led to their win in the state) Naturally, like some of the comments that accompanied the article, I too think that the reporter is being a bit extreme in concluding that the plastic bags are going to make or break the chances of the current government to stay in power, but I shall refrain from saying anything about the article itself. For now.

While the article seems to be centred around whiny and selfish people who probably resent change for any given reason, we cannot deny that the plan certainly has some flaws that were probably overlooked before or during the initial stages of implementation. The thing is, even before this article, and another really superficial one (written by the newspaper's managing editor!!) were published, my sister and I had discussed this issue at length over the span of a few months, especially when we shopped for groceries on Saturdays and found ourselves stuffing groceries into the gym bag or carting them in the shopping cart to the car - seriously, unloading individual items take so much more time than if they were bagged. 

I do sometimes groan inwardly at the inconvenience, but I've accepted that we can actually do shopping without the necessity of having the groceries bagged. After all, unless the items are fragile (think eggs), them doing some disco in the boot generally does not cause any severe damage.  The sister thinks that the burden of removing the free plastic bags should not be the sole responsibility of the shopper, but instead should fall onto the shopping malls themselves as they do save quite a bit on plastic bags when it's not given. What we need is an alternative packaging, perhaps paper bags (like those in the movies). At one time, once of the shops actually provided old cartons for people to arrange their shopping, but for reasons unknown, (carton hogs, maybe) - it seems to have been discontinued.

What I noticed though, is that this "No Plastic Bag Day" has not actually educated the people about reducing and reusing the plastic bags, even the cashiers at the shops. Take this case, for instance... on the way back from the gym on a Sunday, I decide to get some lipbalm from the pharmacy. The lipbalm can actually fit into my jeans back pocket, or if I'm not into stuffing my pockets, I can even hold it in my hands or chuck it into my gym bag. However, the cashier, without even thinking twice, will pull a small plastic bag to pack my stuff, unless I tell her or him that I don't need one.

Note: I'm not referring to anyone as a shopaholic... I just thought it adds a nice ring to the title!


  1. we've had the plastic bag thing for a while here. It's 22 cent for a bag and actually my local shop has stopped selling those entirely and will only sell the more durable ones for reusing for 70cent or the cloth bags. What's happened is that most people now keep a stock of the larger cloth bags in the car.

    Clothes shops, however, just switched to paper bags, which is unbrilliant in a country where it rains all the time. Very early on I bought a top and some toiletries which ended up in the middle of the road because a heavy rainshower hit me as I was walking home. The bags decided to split just as I was crossing a road. Of course I had also purchased those monthly lady products, which ended up similarly spread everywhere. A stranger braved life and limb to retrieve them from the traffic.

    I've now trained myself to (mostly) have a plastic or cloth bag with me at all times!

  2. I have a large reusable nylon bag that rolls up into a small cylinder shape about 3" by 2"

    I keep it in my handbag at all times so I never need to use a plastic bag for any purchases. For a large shop I use the green cloth bags that almost everyone seems to keep in their cars now.

  3. Mine (which cost about $3.00) is similar to this:

  4. AHD: Yikes... the paper bag incident does sound awful... Of course it rains here too, mostly unexpectedly as well. I can just imagine something similar to your story happening.

    Nurse: The 'cylinder' shaped bag - definitely a space saver when not in use. I've not seen those before, but certain organisations have given out some reusable bags for free... my company being one of them that we have quite a collection in the house

  5. Firstly, excellent post!

    When I moved here, I moaned about having to pay €0.20 (depending on which supermarket you go to) for a plastic bag, and more for the reusable ones (which makes sense). I have gotten used to it now.

    I always carry a waterproof shopping bag that folds up smaller than my palm. I think our country, Malaysia has made a good move and is about time they considered environmental issues, but they need to improve their enforcement. Also, public awareness should be created.

  6. I have to admit, I have the reusable bags but sometimes forget them. Grocery stores here seem a little put out by having to pack things in them. But I know it's a needed switch and I've gotten better about taking them in.

  7. You right, I think the management should introduce paperbags instead.

    I for one support this no plastic bag day and am prepared for it by keeping a couple reusable bags in my boot :D

  8. LMC: Yeah, it just needs some getting used to. So far only Selangor and Penang are practicing this... Penang is taking it a step further to make plastic bags banned everyday starting January 2011... We'll just have to see how it turns out. And thanks... :)

    SAW: We end up packing stuff in the bag ourselves here... another thing is (not connected), some places used to have a no outside bag policy, and now they have to let us bring in our own bags.

    Nick: Yeah, that's the fairest, i suppose - unless it rains heavily and the bag tears in the middle of the road like AHD's bag did. It does make me wonder about how this would effect those who take the bus or train to do their shopping... they actually have to lug it around especially if they are standing.

  9. I want my plastic bag back!!!

  10. A lot of stores here sell cloth reusable shopping bags and I've grown rather fond of them. They are far more sturdy than the plastic ones and carry more. I think this day should be embraced.

  11. We need more people who think that way over here, I guess... only time will tell.


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