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Plastic bag ban backflip backflip: Coles the supermarket gymnast.

 

*** As I wrote my way through this rant earlier today, Coles doubled down in backflip town. NOW they will cease handing out free bags at the end of August. While this will be, eventually, good news, I thought I’d set this piece free anyway. Because, honestly, some of you bloody whingers need to get your act together.***

Oh, I am more than a little annoyed.

And I’m supposed to write nicely to you. I understand that the philosophy behind public engagement encourages a supportive approach to making people feel like a valued part of the proposed change, to assist in dealing with the challenge of adopting different behaviours (particularly when these behaviours are beneficial to society), to speak kindly and help people feel loved and relevant, as part of the behavioural change that’s happening, so they’ll own a slice of the conversation and not walk away from it all…

But BUGGER IT, I AM BLOODY CRANKY.

You are a bunch of big whingeing entitled waste babies.

Seriously.

Coles, all you had to do was get your message right. You even had a scapegoat, for Uma’s sake, since the plastic bag ban IS LAW.

And people. You big waste babies. All YOU had to do is REMEMBER TO CARRY YOUR OWN GODDAMN BAG.

Yes, Coles, you are freaking commercial cowards. But, this time, blame doesn’t rest solely with the big guys. Because I’m sure those “reuseable” thicker plastic bags cost a stack of a lot more than the thin grey turtle killers. I guess this current situation is not your ideal choice, either. Your stupid competitive approach, rather than collaborating with Woolies on this issue, has done you in.

No, wastebabies, this one’s on you. Con-freaking-gratulations, you win. You’ve taken a positive piece of legislation (here in Queensland) and MADE THINGS WORSE THAN BEFORE.  ‘Cause look around – do you see many of those “reusable” bags walking with their big wastebaby owners back into Coles?

You asked for it, no, demanded it, when you whinged and whined and bullied checkout operators for the plastic you see as your entitlement.

Over the past week, I have visited an Indian takeaway in West End, a bakery in Highgate Hill, and a general store in Darra. Each of these establishments displayed a sign at the counter, prominent and at eye level, stating that because of the new Queensland law, they could not provide plastic bags, but a “reusable” bag could be purchased for ten cents. Yet, at each of these three stores, the assistant automatically moved to place my purchases in a plastic bag – without even asking me, and definitely without asking for ten cents. Why? My guess is to avoid the hassle/drama/angst/abuse they’ve been copping from customers, those wastebabies who feel that somehow they are missing out on their free plastic bag entitlement. So these small businesses now absorb a fee that their customers should be paying, a fee designed to encourage people to remember to carry a bag into a shop. Even if Coles stops giving out free bags at the end of the month, will all these smaller businesses cop it? Lose, lose.

It’s not as if Australia is leading any plastic-bag-free charge here. (South Australia, maybe.) Dozens of countries have instigated bans or levies over the past decade or so. Bangladesh was the first, after plastic bags waste contributed so seriously to floods in that country. For Bangladesh, it was, literally, a life-and-death decision.

 

Where? When? Ban or levy/tax?
Antigua and Barbuda 2016 ban
Bangladesh 2002 ban
Belgium (Wallonia, Brussels, Flanders) levy
Belize 2019 ban
Benin 2017 ban
Bhutan 2009 ban
Botswana 2007 levy
Buenos Aires, Argentina 2017 ban
Bulgaria 2011 levy
Cambodia 2017 levy
Cameroon 2014 ban
Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward, Quebec) ban
Catalonia 2017 levy
China 2008 ban
Croatia 2019 levy
Cyprus 2018 levy
Czech Republic 2018 ban
Denmark 2003 levy
England 2015 levy
Eritrea 2005 ban
Estonia 2017 levy
Finland 2016 levy
France 2016 ban
Gabon 2010 ban
Gambia 2015 ban
Georgia 2017 ban
Germany 2016 levy
Greece 2018 levy
Greenland 2004 levy
Guinea-Bissau 2016 ban
Haiti 2012 ban
Hong Kong 2015 levy
India (Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Mumbai, Maharashtra)
Indonesia 2016 levy
Ireland 2002 levy
Israel 2017 levy
Italy 2011 ban
Ivory Coast 2014 ban
Kenya 2017 ban
La Paz, Bolivia
Latvia 2019 levy
Lithuania 2018 levy
Luxembourg 2004 levy
Madagascar 2015 ban
Malawi 2015 ban
Mali 2013 ban
Malta 2009 levy
Mauritania 2013 ban
Moldova 2017 ban
Morocco 2016 ban
Mozambique 2016 levy
Myanmar (Rangoon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw)
N’Djamena, Chad ban
Nepal 2015 ban
Netherlands 2016 ban
Niger 2013 ban
Northern Ireland 2013 levy
Panama 2020 ban
Papua New Guinea 2016 ban
Penang, Malaysia 2011 levy
Poland 2018 levy
Portugal 2015 levy
Republic of the Congo 2011 ban
Romania 2011 levy
Rwanda 2008 ban
Sao Paulo, Brazil 2015 ban
Scotland 2014 levy
Senegal 2015 ban
Serbia 2018 ban
Slovakia 2018 levy
Slovenia 2019 ban
Somalia 2015 ban
South Africa 2004 levy
Spain 2018 levy
Sri Lanka 2017 ban
Sweden 2017 ban
Taiwan 2019 ban
Tanzania 2005 ban
Tunisia 2017 ban
Turkey 2018 levy
United States(California, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Hawaii)
Vanuatu 2018 ban
Wales 2011 levy
Australia
South Australia 2009 ban
ACT 2011 ban
NT 2011 ban
Tasmania 2013 ban
Queensland 2018 ban
Western Australia 2018 ban
Victoria 2018 ban

 

 

What drives this international swell against plastic bags? Concern about the impact that bags have on the landscape? Self interest (some African bans follow loss of livestock after eating bags)? Marine impacts (heard of floating syndrome in turtles? It’s awful.)? Aesthetics? Common bloody sense?*

Apart from being a decent and conscious human being, yes, I have historical skin in this game. In 2012, I accepted a contract to work with an environmental organisation to coordinate a campaign designed to remove free plastic bags from shops in Queensland. When I began, the fledgling campaign had been tentatively named “Ban the Bag”, but in the interests of a more positive approach, I changed this to “Plastic Bag Free Queensland (PBFQ)”.

409632_456551054408693_1850491534_n-2It was my first engagement in the environment sector since 1989, when I worked at the incipient Brisbane office of Greenpeace Australia as one of their original volunteers, helping launch the “Adopt-a-Beach” campaign. This, the first Greenpeace campaign for Queensland (somewhat presciently) involved cleaning up waterways and beaches in a forerunner to the excellent work now done by organisations such as Tangaroa Blue.

Like Adopt-a-Beach 20-odd years earlier, PBFQ was launched with a function on the shores of Moreton Bay, as marine impacts were (and are) one major reason why the removal of plastic bags is so important. More on that, elsewhere*. Clean Up Australia’s legendary Ian Kiernan AO joined John Phillips OAM from Keep South Australia Beautiful to help launch the campaign. Within months, an online community of over 2000 supporters rallied.  Key public figures from Bindi Irwin to Michael Zavros pledged their support. Chef Ben O’Donoghue donated a day of his life to film a fantastic short film called “Gutful” thanks to the generosity of Phil MacDonald and his team at GPYR. No less than three Australians of the Year (Kiernan, Peter Doherty AO, and Ian Lowe AO) joined supporters Nick Earls, Veny Armanno, Jessica Watson, and many others.

 

The PBFQ position was not without its challenges, and not just the political climate in which it dwelled. I’d brought my inner teenage environmentalist along to the gig, and her naivety was tested by office bullies and personal politics. I was working in an unwell organisation. In addition, I experienced a little shades-of-green environmental angst. A certain corner of the movement felt that plastic bag ban campaigns were a misguided use of limited resources that should be directed towards serious, pressing “dark green” issues such as climate change. I understand the validity of this argument. However, in an interesting discussion with Ian Kiernan, I saw how waste issues could be considered a gateway to a deeper form of environmentalism. His philosophy was that waste is tangible to all (eventually, even those who forget their reusable supermarket bags), and that an awareness of the waste that we produce as humans leads to an awareness of our environment in general, and our impact upon it. When you realise “there is no away”, you question much of our consumerism and disposable society.

PBFQ was smashed to bits in a single morning. A new import, a right-leaning editor of the state’s newspaper got wind of a discussion paper (considering a possible plastic bag ban or levy) being considered by the LNP government. His front page dog-whistle (the incorrect and histrionic “Shoppers will be slugged $2 for a bag”) to the premier was answered by Newman’s unilateral decree “There will be no slug” – which he announced immediately, without any cabinet consultation (Welcome to Queensland). Death by slug.

And a certain mindset of plastic bag entitlement was strengthened, a progressive opportunity lost. Why do people think they are losing some basic right when losing access to free plastic bags?

On a distant acquaintance’s Facebook, I read a boast about how she just “used lots of those produce bags” to get around the ban. Really? What an effort. How about applying that energy towards carrying a big reusable bag? Whatever would you do with all those bags afterwards? I guess they’d go straight in the bin, being too small for much else.

One main reason behind removing free plastic bags is to prevent them from escaping into the environment, particularly the marine environment. They’re slippery little suckers. Granted, when they are wrapped around household rubbish, they’re less likely to blow away. But is this even necessary?

“But what will I use in my bin?”

Oh, please. I’ve been having this friggin conversation for six years. I guess another hour won’t hurt.

  1. You don’t need to line your bin. Simple. Got a hose? Dump the kitchen bin into the big bin, and hose your kitchen bin out.
  2. Too icky? Put a bit of newspaper at the bottom of the bin. Or junk mail. Or scrap paper.
  3. Use bread bags, or pasta bags, or juice cartons, for the meaty/messy stuff. Make compost with your scraps rather than putting them in the bin. I’ve had two healthy worm farms on tiny unit balconies; it’s not hard.
  4. Use a box.
  5. Wrap rubbish in newspaper if you’re in a unit and need to put it in a chute.
  6. Really must line that bin? Then buy a goddamn bin liner. You’ll still use less plastic if you take your own bags to the supermarket and buy bin liners. Look for compostable, not just degradable. Bags labelled biodegradable bags are frequently still plastic, and still stay in the environment for 1000 years.

In ACT and SA, sales of bin liners, it was reported, did increase a little after the plastic bag bans – but not as much as expected. And in ACT, bin liner sales actually dropped, as people looked at other options.

And even if bin liner sales HAD increased by 100%, this is nothing like the amount of plastic supermarket bags that had stopped being handed out. The South Australian government estimates that their ban has saved 400 million bags annually.

Happy birthday! Taking part in a beach clean up on Moreton Island, May 2012.

Happy birthday! Taking part in a beach clean up on Moreton Island, May 2012.

 

*For more information about the impact of marine and other impacts of plastic bags and other plastic waste, here are a few links.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-12/what-you-can-do-to-reduce-plastic-pollution/9642352

https://www.boomerangalliance.org.au/impacts

http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2017-02-27/plastic-and-plastic-waste-explained/8301316

https://ntepa.nt.gov.au/waste-pollution/plastic-bag-ban/environmental-impacts

http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/publications/impacts-plastic-debris-australian-marine-wildlife

https://greenerideal.com/news/environment/0613-how-do-plastic-bags-affect-our-environment/

http://qldbagban.com.au/plastic-bags-costs-environment-economy/

 

Other references

http://www.abc.net.au/news/specials/curious-canberra/2017-08-28/does-a-plastic-bag-ban-cause-a-spike-in-the-use-of-bin-bags/8819504

http://wastemanagementreview.com.au/ban-the-bag-debate/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-out_of_lightweight_plastic_bags

http://www.zerowaste.sa.gov.au/plastic

 

Anger shackles

Pulling into Yandina, the sweetest station of all.

On the train from Eumundi to Brisbane earlier this week, I’d scored myself some glorious uninterruptable hours to write a piece whose deadline casts a megashadow over the month (and a piece that’s proving a challenge on two fronts). Or so I’d assumed.

Lack of chivalry meets lack of self control, and the bloke who should be painted as a prick to the carriage community gets away with it.

Seat sorted: forward facing, single against window. An older train, so no free wifi to distract. (Important.) It all starts so well. But then, somewhere south of Nambour, around Mooloola, my concentration cracks all Humpty Dumpty.

People trickle into the train along the line until only single seats remain. It’s not yet 7am.

Young battler family, straight from Working Dog’s central casting, push their way pram first up the carriage, needing to park pram and sit. Mum, smiling, holds their young baby, bringing up the rear. They stop across from me, diagonally, next to a baby boomer-esque couple in the seats near the door, the seats usually reserved for the handicapped or the infirm. The seats that a gentleman would vacate for a woman with baby in arms.

Young dad (ponytail, buzz undercut, goatee) stops and exercises his polite voice, asks if the couple sitting would mind swapping sears so his family could please sit together and keep an eye on the pram?

The woman continues to stare out the window. Her partner (60ish, blue business shirt, shiny bald head) looks directly at the little family, and abrupts in a surprisingly velvet voice “Why, have you got another two seats together for us? We’re sitting together.”

“Um,” goatee replies, colouring up. “I don’t know, we’d just like to sit with the baby and the pram please.”

“Did you pay extra? No. We’re not moving. You can leave the pram here and sit elsewhere.”

Prick. This is the point I turn, with my best glare.

Young goatee dad is also offended by a lack of chivalry.

(Queensland Rail itself would also be disappointed. Point 2 in their 15-point guide to transport etiquette states: If you are occupying a Priority Seat, vacate the seat for someone who has a disability, is elderly, pregnant or carrying young children.)

 So far, clear moral script. Villain easily spotted… Until goatee boy’s anger grabs him by the balls and he loses it, telling the selfish prick he is, well, a selfish prick, but using all his favourite words starting with C and F. But mainly C.

After a few rounds of fourth-grade playground vocab, goatee is pretty frustrated. And very, very angry.

“You expect us to leave the pram here and go sit all the way in another carriage, and come back and forth for the baby, c***?.”

I stand, fold my laptop under my arm, and offer the mother my single seat, willing the young dad to calm down and shut up, willing the older man to stop looking so smug (because he is smug now, he’s been sworn at, so he can claim moral superiority). He’s still a prick.

“Thank you, madam (!) that’s very kind of you, but i wouldn’t take your seat when this f***ing C*** dog won’t get off his f***ing selfish a******* to let a lady with a baby sit down.” (Turning to throw another “c***” in the direction of his nemesis.)

Etc. You can imagine. For a lot of the journey’s remaining 90 minutes.

 

This anger breaks my heart. This anger allows the business man (did I mention he was a selfish, unchivalrous prat?) to play the injured part, which he milks, calling for the guard, saying he feels threatened, telling the guard to call the police because a violent man is threatening him in words and actions.

Kids sprawled on seats further down the train stare at their phone screens while elderly people stand in the aisles next to them. Who can expect them to offer their seats, with the example played out at the other end of the carriage?

I stare out the window.

The view from the train

 

Goatee man, because he lost his temper, threw away the moral high ground, and it’s tempting to extrapolate to the rest of his life, sadder, spiralling in anger cycles, because somewhere he missed a life lesson or two. Always recast as villian.

He did come back down the carriage, and apologised to the man and woman (still seated, she staring out the window) for his earlier language. The “couple” hadn’t spoken a word to each other, and didn’t for the entire journey. The businessman kept his eyes closed the entire apology, which riled goatee boy anew. Apology forgotten, a new flock of cursing was released. Businessman still looked smug. I felt disappointed in the pair of them, annoyed for humanity, and am still trying to figure out why this episode has wormed its way around my thoughts all week.

“The anger of the stupid keeps them disenfranchised,” I SMS’ed to my partner. What an unattractive parable.

 

 

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