Plastic Pushers

So
I was at the chemist earlier this week and I bought five or six small items. I
got a reusable green bag out from my swag of green bags and I put it on the
counter. The assistant picked up the first item, scanned it, and placed it back
down where she had picked it up from. Meanwhile, I had folded over the upper
edge of the green bag, making it stand up unsupported, just so.

She
scanned the second item and returned it to where she had picked it up. I
retrieved my store card from my purse and she scanned the next item and the
next, placing each of them in turn where she had picked them up from. The assistant
seemed to be blind to the green bag I’d prepared for her use. Puzzling. Was her
mind elsewhere or was it intentional blindness?

She
scanned the final item as my left eyebrow began to rise a little. I passed the
store card to her to be scanned and once completed I began to put my debit card
in the EFTPOS machine, and she began to reach under the counter for a store bag
– plastic of course.

‘Oh,
just in my bag, please,’ I said, calm as the sea on a languid summer day.

‘Oh,
you don’t want a bag?’ she asked.

‘No.
I have one,’ I said, motioning to the empty bag right in front of her, its
sides beginning to sag from their long wait.

Reluctantly
the assistant began to put the items into my trusty green bag, saying as she
did it, ‘You don’t mind them banging around…?’

I
took back my debit card as the machine beeped at me rudely, looked at her as I
took my receipt from her hand and said – very little, I’m afraid – just
‘Thanks.’ This was just one of those conversations not worth having. And I
left, my head shaking just a little bit, trying to restrain my growing
frustration.

The
ABC’s documentary series ‘The War on Waste’ raised so many excellent issues
when it was broadcast recently. Plastic bag waste was just one. Here in South
Australia, we’ve had a ban on plastic bags being given out at supermarkets for a
few years – but there are loopholes! You can still buy them at the supermarket
checkout, and you can still be given stronger ‘reusable’ bags (a low percentage
of which are actually reused). And if you go to a department store or shops
like chemists and shoe shops and electrical appliance and music retailers and
many more, you’ll still automatically get your products put in the slightly
heavier weight, glossy bags with the shop’s logo all over it – environmental
destruction for commercial advertising. You have to be quick to avoid one and,
sometimes, like on this occasion this week, you have to be very determined.
Some would say militant. But when there’s forecast to soon be more plastic by
weight in the sea than there is the weight of fish, determination is necessary
and everyone needs to get on-board.

Clearly
some advertising people have convinced some marketing people that seeing other
shoppers with one of their plastic store bags in their hands will convince us
of the store’s inherent worthiness to also receive our hard-earned dollars. Do
they really think their product so mediocre that they’ll only sell it if their
bags are seen in the hands of shoppers? Is that why they train their assistants
to be plastic pushers even though plastic bags are, for retailers, an expense?

Plastic
bags are like drugs now. We think we need them. You see people who’ve bought
one item say ‘yes’ to a plastic bag. Even if they then go straight to their car
and to their home and put that bag straight in the bin after half an hour’s
use.

We
need our retailers to stop being plastic-pushers. We need our politicians to
close the legal loopholes that allow our retailers to be plastic-pushers. We
need everyone to join the #WarOnWasteAU. Because as long as retailers and lawmakers
think that money and votes respectively are at risk if they ban plastic bags,
they won’t do it.

As
the ABC series showed, there is so much waste generated in this country, so
much waste in the world’s oceans, so much waste in our landfills – many are
reaching capacity. We’re wasting the planet that supports us and we’re
encouraging each other to do it. I don’t want our sales assistants to be
plastic-pushers – especially those like my chemist assistant who are working in
the health sector.

Free
plastic bags at the checkout are a post-World War II phenomenon that seemed
like a good idea at the time. We now know better. We now know that plastic in
landfill or the ocean doesn’t disappear. We now know it’s a part of the food
chain and it’s in us (via seafood consumption), and we know that can’t be good
for us!

Did
my assistant believe in what she was pushing that day? I don’t know. I’ve been going
to that store for several years. I’ve seen her there, been served by her, many
times. I always have my own bag. Mostly she gives no indication of having seen
me before. Maybe she’s just a cog in the machine; another brick in the wall?

I
didn’t call ‘bullshit’ on her that day, but I did insist on using my own bag.
And I’ll keep on quietly insisting, as I have been doing for more than a
quarter of a century. It’s not odd or new to BYO. We’ve just forgotten that
everyone used to do it. All the time. Everywhere.

Maybe
one day my assistant will step away from the machine and see that she’s
contributing negatively to the world her children’s children will live in.
Maybe the machine she’s in will change. And maybe one day she’ll stop pushing
plastic.

#WarOnWasteAU
#BYObag #NoPlasticPushers #CloseThePlasticLoopholes #saparli #auspol

PS
I wrote this Friday night and yesterday morning (15 July 2017), I woke to the
wonderful news
that Coles and Woolworths have decided to stop providing plastic bags at
checkouts across Australia. What excellent news! But what about the option to
buy thicker, so-called ‘reusable’ bags at retail checkouts? We all have the
power to help retailers to find the courage to stop supplying plastic bags. Give
your positive feedback on this new announcement. Bring your own bags whenever
you go shopping. Together, we can make the world a less-littered place. Get
tips on how to reduce your plastic bag usage here.

©
Palitja Moore, text and image, 2017

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