Monday, 21 September 2015 07:40

The exhausting weight of: ‘No bag – please!’

heaps of plastic heaps of plastic

This phrase has been part of my ongoing battle against plastic bags ever since I moved to Cyprus – along with a stop-sign hand held up for emphasis. It has become so much of my check-out routine that I am beginning to worry that if I visit home, I’ll be greatly confusing cashiers in shops where there isn’t a plastic bag in sight.

Fortunately, my fellow ‘no plastic’ fighters seem to be numerous, as the reaction to a recent humorous online comment showed. I had succeeded in convincing a young woman at a bakery that sticking that baguette in a paper bag into an additional (smaller) plastic bag was pretty pointless. ‘True,’ she laughed.
But the incident got me thinking once again about where this obsession with ‘bagging everything’ comes from. Judging by the enthusiasm with which they are slipped over every item – regardless of size or added convenience – one could almost think each added plastic bag enhances the value and/or quality of your goods.
Some cashiers demonstratively sigh at my two loose lemons or my ‘unbagged’ head of garlic and with an ‘umph’ stick it into a plastic bag to weigh it. Depending on how rebellious I feel, I sometimes ‘umph’ right back and take it out of the bag the second it comes off. Are they instructed to use a maximum of plastic? Surely not: it must cost something… Is it just a habit they cannot shake? Can ignorance of the harm plastic does to our environment still be this great in the 21st century?

When the teacher in me comes out, I explain that each single bag will stay around for at least another 500 years. I usually get a blank stare that seems to say ‘Surely this one’s crazy’.

I still remember the shock I first arrived from Austria – a country where recycling has been turned into a science that is almost incomprehensible to the novice but second nature to the native. A cashier had decided to place a few tiny household items I had bought into one of those super-sized, super-strong plastic bags, so I decided to take them back out and put them in my backpack. She was so upset by this, she grabbed the things literally out of my hands, stuck them back into the bag and taped the bag shut! Yes, this is extreme (and funny), but it does make one wonder.

How can there be such a world of difference between countries that are both in the European Union, supposedly both following some sort of regulation? Fortunately a bit of research did reveal that there is hope. Apparently some new ‘directives’ will require Cyprus to limit the annual per head use of plastic bags from the current 125 to 90 and/or apply an obligatory charge for bags by 2018.

Part of me thinks, ‘That’ll be an easy count: three weeks of shopping and the quota has been reached’, but part of me also thinks one has to remain optimistic – and one certainly has to continue those little lectures and hand gestures – despite the strange looks.

Article as published in The Cyprus Weekly of September 18, 2015 

Mary Anglberger

I’ve been travelling the world for over 20 years teaching English and am now taking time to follow my passion for photography and writing. I want to share all the things, events and people that have inspired and inspire me and spread those positive vibes all around.

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