SHOPPERS in England, since last Monday, have been paying 5p for plastic carrier bags, as part of a government scheme to reduce litter and protect wildlife. Customers at all supermarkets and large shops will now have to use their own bags or pay for each plastic bag they require for their shopping. Although 5p per bag is a small penalty, the British government expects this would reduce the use of plastic bags that take 500 years to decompose.
Is it not time the authorities did something about the mindless, uncontrollable use of plastic bags here as well? In Cyprus, it is not just the supermarkets that give out three times as many plastic bags as someone requires – buy more than one item from a periptero and the assistant would shove them each into a plastic bag, no matter how small and easy to carry they may be. Bakeries are just as generous, insisting on putting refrigerated items in one bag and any other item in a second bag, even if it is bread that is already in a plastic or paper bag.
This writer had once asked an assistant at a bakery why she was putting an item that was already in a bag in another carrier bag and she replied that many customers complained when she did not.
In other words, shoppers have become so accustomed to being given a maximum amount of plastic bags they felt cheated if they were not; carrier bags have become a consumer’s entitlement even if he has no other use for them. If at least they used the bags for picking up their dog’s pooh these would have served a useful purpose, but unfortunately, the overwhelming majority do not clear the mess their pets leave on the pavements, public parks and paths.
Last June, the head of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development said that, on average, every Cypriot used 125 plastic bags per year and there was a target to reduce this number to 90 by 2018. She urged people to use their own shopping bags, the practice of 40 years ago, but it appears she was ignored. It would be naive to think that we would meet the 2018 target by a public plea to people once a year. Shoppers now view the provision of numerous plastic bags by shops as an inalienable consumer right and they do not care if these indestructible plastic bags litter our towns and countryside
This is why the government needs to follow the example set by Britain and force shops to start charging for bags. Some people might think nothing of paying an extra 10 or 20 cents, but many would invest in their re-usable bags. Charging is the only way to address the problem.