Last month, England introduced new legislation that requires supermarkets to stop providing free single use plastic bags at the till and to charge at least 5 pence for the biodegradable ones. Until now, you were already able to buy these alongside the free ones, but now the latter have been removed from circulation altogether in most supermarkets.
The media was all over this of course, with the usual
trash popular newspapers spreading their own brand of fear-mongering with predictions of supermarket queues, confused shoppers and possibly riots. One headline in particular made me laugh by stating in a tone of despair that in order to avoid the 5p charge, people would be ‘forced to bring their own bags.‘
‘But that’s the POINT!’ I wanted to shout.
England is actually a bit late in the game. Wales implemented the same policy in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. I can’t help but feel that the negative publicity, in light of the ecological blight that plastic bags are on the environment, and the cost to retailers to provide them, to be badly misjudged.
There are many times when I have felt in tune with English people in my reactions to various news and events but in this instance, I have observed and experienced the media storm generated by this nationwide change as an outsider, because it has been years (at least since 2005) that France has taken this policy. I will admit, it has been a shock to turn up at the till in French supermarket and be forced to put all my shopping back in the trolley without bags because not only do they not supply any, but they don’t tend to sell the biodegradable ones at the till either. I don’t know where they sell them in fact. I sure can never find them when I am desperately trying to carry 4 tins of tuna, a massive box of corn flakes, two baguettes and a bottle of wine (and don’t forget the string of garlic round my neck) with my bare hands. You are expected to come prepared and provide your own bags.
So what. It’s a great opportunity to change bad habits and to train myself, not only to keep bags in the truck of my car, but also to remember to take them out to go to the shops. Right now, even that is beyond my brain to remember but I am hopeful. Even better, I should stop using plastic altogether and bring the rafia and hemp bags out. I suspect I will continue to forget a few times before it has sunk in, but it will happen eventually, and our planet will be the better for it.