Old bag

The major supermarket chains are engaged in a new battle – to reduce the number of plastic bags issued. A laudable goal, certainly – the reduction of land fill and hazards to animals are worthwhile benefits.

My local supermarket has risen to the challenge in a number of ways. On those little conveyor belt divider things, they’re using the slogan "Every bag counts". And they’ve obviously told the checkout chicks/blokes to lean towards the smaller green coloured plastic bags, with the possibly unfortunate consequence that sometimes it seems you walk out of the supermarket with two small green plastic bags, suspecting that your shopping would have fit into one slightly larger white plastic bag.

Both chains also sell reusable cloth bags, but the problem with this is that they are branded. I tend to shop at both on occasions – sometimes they have specials, sometimes I want something from Coles that I know I can’t get at the (rather poorly stocked, sometimes) local Safeway, and so on. I’m happy to use a cloth bag, but how would I feel walking into Coles with a Safeway bag, or vice versa? Should I buy a set for each, and remember which ones to take each time I go shopping?

As it happens, digging around in the kitchen, I found an old cloth bag. I don’t recall where it came from, but it’s not branded, and it’s big enough to carry a fair bit of shopping. So on Saturday when I needed a few things, I stuffed it in my back pocket and walked down the street.

There seem to be some people who are so well organised with their grocery shopping that they do one trip every week (or longer) and buy everything they could possibly need for the week. And presumably they manage to use up most of the perishables they buy before they go off.

And then there’s me. I’m nowhere near that organised. I generally buy a bunch of stuff on Sundays that I expect to use during the week, but I always end up stocking up in dribs and drabs during the week. But when I think about it, smaller volume trips to the supermarket are good on several fronts.

Firstly, because I’m not returning with tons of stuff, I can leave my car at home and walk. The other day I saw a woman pack stuff into her car, and drive literally out of the car park, around the corner, and into her driveway – a total distance of about 300 metres. About half the travel time was spent waiting to turn right into the main road. Utterly ridiculous. EXERCISE, people. Use your legs for more than working the clutch/accelerator/brake or they might just drop off while you’re not looking. No, really, researchers at the Uni of Adelaide last year concluded that one reason the population of western countries is much less fit than in decades past is our addiction to our cars.

Secondly, for some reason I’ve found in the past that I sometimes buy a bunch of food and it gets stuffed way back into the darkest recesses of the fridge and I forget about them for a week or two, by which point they are only edible if I am willing to risk the lives of myself, my friends and family. Which as a rule, I’m not. Just In Time is the kind of thing logistics experts love, and in cases like these I can see the benefit.

And finally, I don’t have to feel self-conscious about getting to the checkout with five thousand items which will obviously not fit into one (reasonably sized though it is) cloth bag. Well, at least I’d be trying
to reduce how many bags I’m carrying, but I’d still feel a bit silly. Maybe that’s because I’m a beginner in this cloth bag lark. Or maybe it’s because I only have one. Time to go looking for some more.

So anyway I moseyed into Safeway, and did my shopping (maybe half a dozen items). The checkout chick saw the cloth bag under my arm and happily put it on her little bag feeder thing to pack all the stuff into it, despite it taking a little longer than usual. Obviously the plastic ones are perfectly streamlined for this process, but not to worry, if lots of people turn up with their own bags, I’m sure the staff will get used to it.

Everything fit fine, and as I walked home I discovered the other benefits of the cloth bag: the handles don’t dig into your skin, and thus are much more comfortable. Plus I get to show off my environmental consciousness for very little effort. It’s certainly more likely to set an example to others than wearing a Greenpeace t-shirt.

Not that hard, was it? I think I could get used to this.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.