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Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Plastic Bag

I am a responsible consumer.  When I get to the checkout, I flourish my cloth shopping bags.

And the first time out in a new shop you can expect to be met with bemusement.  Many will try to ignore the existence of the bags and start loading your purchases into the regular plastic.  So you ask them not to do that and draw their attention to the cloth bags.  One 7-Eleven employee immediately saw the light and pulled out another plastic bag into which he stuffed my cloth bags.  At no extra charge, I hasten to add.

But often you merely have to brave the stares that must have met the first of our ancestors who decided to walk on two legs.  Showing it off, is he?

One chain graciously rewards me with loyalty points which convert into a discount on future purchases at the corporately socially responsible rate of 10 satang each time you use your own bags (not for each bag you save/use).  But other outlets just regard you as minor annoyance for disrupting their normal routine, and everyone leaves you to do your own bagging since retail staff are known to be allergic to all packaging material that isn’t plastic.

But it turns out I am wrong. 

California is due to ban to use of plastic bags (at least the one-time flimsy variety) and suddenly people with clipboards are out on the streets, informing the population of the impropriety, the danger, the sheer ideological wrong-headedness of this ban.  If they can collect enough signatures of right-thinking people on their clipboards (for which they are paid by the signature), it is hoped that the ban will be averted at the last minute.

But what is wrong with using your own bags?

Hah!  More like what could be right with it. 

Having folk wander the aisles with their own bags just encourages mass shoplifting since it is goes without saying that supermarkets are far too respectful of our privacy to check if a customer’s bag is empty before check-out, i.e. before data on every last thing you buy goes into their vast database to be used for who knows what reason.

(My favourite story on this concerns a woman who took up a retail giant’s offer to e-mail her a weekly shopping list based on what her family loyalty card showed she regularly bought, plus a few extra goodies that the store thought a person with her demographic ought to have bought.  She was bemused to find condoms on her list, since she was taking the pill.  It turned out that Tesco knew about her husband’s extramarital affairs before she did.)

And then there’s this idea that cloth bags must be filled by the customer.  This will inevitably lead to mass unemployment among baggers, a source of major concern to companies who invented the self-check-out line so that customers could do their work for them and they could cashier their cashiers.

That’s if the stores can stay in business.  Industry studies show that areas where plastic bags are banned lose sales (which are immediately made up in neighbouring areas with no bans), hurting the small shopkeepers who cannot run outlets in both areas and to whose continued livelihoods the mega-chains are so altruistically committed that they never open stores in direct competition with them.

There will of course be even more unemployment in the plastic bag industry, whose workers are renowned for their church-going honesty, their patriotic sobriety and their capitalist civic-mindedness and whose children still end up in the workhouse as a result.  This is unlike the makers of cloth bags, who are known to be shifty, drug-addled dropouts who live in China (and are therefore communist!).

But the killer argument is the discovery that cloth bags are killers.  Shoppers don’t wash them, you see, then leave them in hot cars for hours on end where they seethe with lethal microbes and turn into mini biological weapons so that the next time you bring them out, you infect entire neighbourhoods, causing sickness and hospital bills and even death.  Well, potentially, but it’s just a matter of time.

So stick with the plastic and live free.

And wind farms are unsightly (unlike the picturesque smoke given off by coal-fired power stations) and make disturbing noises (like the wind that drives them) and murder hundreds of unwitting birds, some of which may belong to endangered species (and if they’re daft enough to fly into one you can understand why they’re endangered) and all of which are upstanding members of the animal kingdom.  So burn fossil fuels.

And democracy encourages divisions and dissent and allows the tyranny of the majority and gives the vote to idiots with no dress sense (red indeed!) and is not the way the superbly efficient capitalist sector operates.  So enjoy dictatorship. 

About author:  Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).