July 03, 2018

Horse 2434 - People Must Have Put Plastic Bags On Their Heads And Suffocated: This Whole Argument Is Madness

If you've been following the media this week, this biggest dilemma currently facing the country, isn't the loss of penalty rates and the punching down by the rich and powerful in undeclared class warfare (don't worry, the rich are winning - they have the weapons), it isn't the ongoing tragedy which is currently going on on Nauru where we still have people locked up on a tropical gulag and where journalists have been kept out of the Pacific Islands Forum, and it isn't the new set of scandals at the Commonwealth Bank as result of gross misconduct when it comes to financial advice. No, the most terrible issue is that Woolworths and Coles have withdrawn plastic bags from the checkouts.
Andrew Bolt in the Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph wrote a piece which claims that there will be future food poisoning claims because people don't wash their reusable bags properly and Facebook was awash with a story that a checkout operator in Richmond (with no identifier which state that it was in) was choked by a customer because they didn't have any plastic bags. Both versions of the story on my Facebook feed appeared to have a picture of Sainsbury's, which says to me that this was never checked by genuine news outlets.

As we rolled through the weekend, I discovered first hand what it was like in this brave new world without plastic bags at the supermarket checkout and to be honest, it was totally fine. The world didn't collapse or come to an end and the only moment of anger that I saw was perpetrated by two sets of bogans in the car park, who were both driving Commodores, competing for a car park space where the person hadn't even exited (and by the way was also driving a Commodore).
Humans have a remarkable ability to do two things. Firstly adapt to situations; so that whatever is, becomes the new normal. Secondly, that humans have an unlimited propensity for selflessness and will complain long and loudly about things that are relevant to their interests.

The people complaining about Woolworths and Coles removing plastic bags can't use the excuse that the world has changed and that they can't get used to it. Things were indeed different when they were children because things were different when I was a child.
When I were a wee lad (and you know that this will be the insane rambling of an old geezer), there wasn't even a thing as plastic shopping bags. Our local Fleming's used paper grocery bags and that was in the days when an entire week's worth of shopping could be had for under $40. I remember dad complaining about how the shopping bags would get wet and so he wanted to use the alternative which was provided and which was also sensible.
The Fleming's had a big sort of cage thing near the checkout where you could pick out the big cardboard boxes which all of the things in the supermarket was originally shipped in. This was far more sensible because those cardboard boxes would get another use and maybe more before they were eventually incinerated in the backyard. Everyone's backyard incinerators are all gone (and the weekly ceremony of poisoning the sky has also gone) but I can see no sensible reason why this ever needed to change. Packing your shopping into cardboard boxes that would have otherwise been thrown out anyway, makes perfect sense to me.

The butcher's shop also had their own heavy paper shopping bags. The butcher's shop that we always went to was part of the Bush's Meats chain of independent shops and although I have no idea how that worked as an organisation, I do know that the big bags that we got had their logo on; and my sister and I called them "B Bags".
B Bags were also ultimately destined for the incinerator but they would almost always have a brief but turbulent life as being a suit of armor for small children. If you rip out holes for your head and arms, then a B Bag becomes a perfect adornment for a small paladin or crusader. If you also give that same small child a cardboard tube from the inside of an aluminum foil roll, then you have the makings for someone to cry "havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war, in suburbia.
I didn't live in some idyllic 1950s paradise either. This was at a time when the old order was just about to change. By the time I turned twelve years old, the Berlin Wall had come down and East Germany had ceased to be, the Soviet Union was in the middle of becoming neither of those things, Margaret Thatcher had learned that even the Iron Lady was prone to rust, and the stock market had crashed and we were all hurtling towards "the recession that Australia had to have" with no brakes.

If I can remember the days before plastic bags appeared at the supermarket en masse, then clearly this is not an always forever and ever type scenario. This is a change that has happened within a generation and that means that it shouldn't be that difficult to get used to changing again.
The underlying truth here is that Woolworths and Coles are justified in removing plastic bags from the checkout. When you hear about a whale which has turned up dead on a beach somewhere because it ingested 80 plastic bags, then that means that we're doing serious damage to the world that we live in. This isn't it a climate change issue but rather that the oceans aren't our rubbish bins and we can't keep on chucking our rubbish in them forever or both they and the things living in them will die. If a person showed up at an airport with 80 plastic bags inside them, we would be shocked and horrified and assume that they were trying to smuggle drugs through customs. To the best of my knowledge, whales aren't particularly renowned for their cocaine smuggling cartels.
Not only is the solution to replacing plastic bags at the checkout both cheap and obvious, it's something that we already used to do and didn't really have a good enough reason to change. Bunnings  already employs this at their stores, and the other big supermarket chain Aldi, never needs to change their policies because they never packed your shopping for you in the first place.

Okay, yes this is all a bit of a rant to say that "things were better in the olden days" but that's only because they actually were and it has taken us all this time to realise why. It has been estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans of the world than all of the biomass put together; for something that's only really existed since 1907, that's environmentally shocking in ways that we cannot conceive. Eliminating plastic bags at Woolworths and Coles, is but the smallest of steps in a much grander story of eliminating single use plastic across the planet. The only verdict that I have is that the whingers are unreasonably selfish, at the expense of even their own future selves.

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