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Bagging it

15 January 2010 No Comment

Letter printed in the Gulf Weekly, Bahrain on 13th January 2010.

A conversation on the evils of plastic bags with a friend spurred me to have a look around, particularly at stores and supermarkets, just to see what was on offer as an alternative to ugly plastic. Low and behold, I found at Last Chance and Geant- a Jute bag selling for 500 and 800 fils. The question that arose then was- Why aren’t people growing crazy for these bags??

Well, when you have plastic bags going for free as compared to ‘paying’ for a bag- doesn’t one choose the easy way out ? So the hypermarket Geant started charging for its plastic bags, which is common norm in supermarkets in the Europe. Unfortunately, that hardly worked in its favour. People flocked to other markets where plastic bags are taken to as if it is free money, forcing Geant to give in to its stakeholders. Where did Geant’s good intentions go wrong? Are people ignorant of how surplus plastic in the environment is toxic?

People are not ignorant, just merely lazy and need to be given a big fat push to do what is good for them. Paying for bags may seem silly for them now, but it will do wonders to alter behaviour- it will eventually make people remember to carry their own bags, become conscious of their environment, maybe get them to walk to the local grocer down the street instead of driving up and blah blah blah…But the business of charging for bags or making a conscious effort to reduce damage to our environment cannot be left just to one supermarket, it has to be the collective effort of all. Remember ‘United we stand, divided we fall!’ Furthermore, it would help if there was a legislation enforced, whereby this would be a default aspect of every business rather than just supplementary commitment of the company.

But the problem is just not paying or charging for the bag…The problem is Design!!How hard is it to provide good design for these jute bags?? Eco-friendly is just not a good enough reason to sell these bags- they have to look GOOD, if one expects people to pay good money for it. This is a world of demanding and well-informed consumers, and it wouldn’t hurt to have fabulous and simple graphic design on it. Have a look at Marks and Spencer’s canvas bag?? It’s got a fabulous image, simple cotton material and the company logo accompanies it stylistically. Food for thought…

But I couldn’t even find alternative bags when I went hunting for them in Carrefour even though there was signage telling me to choose them instead of evil plastic. Now anyone, rather than search to buy these bags, will just take what they get and move on. It brings us to the question- are you, the supermarket or corporation, making it easy for me, a.k.a consumer, to choose something good or to be good?

But, what about when we have a faint idea on the problems of the environment, but not necessarily on what we can do about it? Like my good friend who said he wouldn’t buy a cloth bag as it was expensive (about 2.500 BD, in his opinion) and that it would pay for his three meals. Well, there are two issues I have with his thinking; first, it is short-term thinking where he does not realize that small inactions of his might cost him his three meals in the future. Secondly, he is just simply not aware of the cheaper options are available to him. One can, thus, sense the great urgency and importance to campaign small causes such as avoiding plastic bags. And I cannot stress more about the limited time we have to make a big difference with a small step.




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