Bag Ladies

It’s a rare and wonderful day that I can write two posts on this blog’s favourite niche topics. Two readers have alerted me to this article, via Guido:

Last week, the government proudly announced that plastic bag sales had fallen dramatically.

However, the government’s press release only mentioned in passing that these figures only include so-called “single-use” plastic bags.

This is significant because most supermarkets are actively trying to replace or supplement the sale of thin single-use bags with more durable bags, known as “bags for life”.

But the government’s figures do not include any bags for life – which now account for a significant proportion of supermarket plastic bag sales.

About ten days ago I was on the beach with an environmental engineer who was convinced that using “bags for life” was better than single-use bags. I said that this was cute, but it was no less an article of faith than a Medieval peasant believing in the afterlife. She disagreed, so I asked if she was aware of the Danish study which shows “bags for life” are more damaging to the environment than single-use bags. She said she wasn’t, but she was more concerned with the overall environmental impact, not just the amount of plastic used. I said this is precisely what the study looked at. She dismissed this with a wave of the hand and said she was “sure” there are lots of studies out there. I asked if she could name any, because the one by the Danish government was the only one I’d heard of. She said she didn’t know of any. I said I admired her commitment to her faith. She suggested we go for a swim.

The problem is this is not about personal choice. I couldn’t care less if middle class women in white collar professions want to make pointless offerings to the Earth Goddess, but they want their dumb personal preferences turned into national legislation without the slightest consideration of the broader consequences.

Bags for life are much thicker than single-use bags, so they contain much more plastic.

For instance, FactCheck calculates that a Waitrose bag for life weighs almost four times as much as the supermarket’s single-use bags.

The idea is that customers will use fewer of them – so the total amount of plastic being used over the course of a year will be less. But reports suggest this is not always working.

Last year, The Times said an average UK household uses 44 bags for life in just one year.

And the managing director of Iceland admitted the supermarket was actually using more plastic – not less – as a result of switching to bags for life.

He told the paper: “These bags for life are a thicker, higher grade of plastic… We are selling less of them but it’s not yet less enough that it’s compensated in terms of the extra weight that they are for the fewer amount of bags that we are selling. So therefore I haven’t yet reduced the total amount of plastic weight, even though I have eliminated 5p carrier bags.”

Legislation is being passed by religious fanatics who are convinced they’re acting rationally in accordance with economic and scientific data. At least in the olden days the religious orders put up some nice buildings.

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30 thoughts on “Bag Ladies

  1. As we all know that women are the most easily manipulated demographic (1. Will I fit in with the ‘group’ if I do this. 2. Does it make me a good person) All we need to do is make shopping trolleys cool again. Redesign them with chunky wheels and bright colours and then have the girls from TOWIE use them along with those from Made in Chelsea. 90% of women will buy them. Bag problem solved.

  2. I dont suppose the report is taking into account additional purchases of bin liners that was a secondary use for single use plastic bags.
    I also hear that McDonalds replacement paper straws are not recyclable whereas their plastic ones were.

  3. The _average_ uk household uses 44 bags for life in a year? I call crap on that.

    With the usual caveat that you should never extrapolate from anything my family does, I would say that, now that we have a good chunk of these bags, we probably don’t buy more than one every few months. I’d say 5-10 in a year absolute max.

    Unless they are talking about the more expensive but still basically single use plastics, not the properly strong larger bags that last a couple of years, which go first at the seams and which can – and are worth – repairing with duck tape.

  4. “…an average UK household uses 44 bags for life in just one year.”

    44? That sounds wildly implausible to me. My wife uses bags for life. She has four — all at least three years old.

  5. Consumer psychology works though. By attaching a price to the bags-for-life, even a low one, people are much less likely to leave them strewn across the countryside or washed up on the beach. We might have a bit more plastic going to landfill, but that’s the price to pay for clean beaches.

    Next step: introduce a refundable deposit for those tiny canisters of laughing gas that mysteriously litter our public spaces.

  6. I’m surprised MacDo missed the paper straw flusterckuck. It’s micromanaged so you get the same experience in Kansas City or Khartoum. So getting a key ingredient wrong must be worrying for the shareholders. All we need is a bit of pork fat in the chip fryer and we’ll get the Indian Mutiny all over again.

  7. By attaching a price to the bags-for-life, even a low one, people are much less likely to leave them strewn across the countryside or washed up on the beach.

    Fair point. Although from an environmental point of view it might be better to pay people to go around collecting them.

  8. I also hear that McDonalds replacement paper straws are not recyclable whereas their plastic ones were.

    I was in a Marriott recently, a chain which had recently boasted it was getting rid of plastic straws globally. I ordered a milkshake and it came with a paper straw which turned into sludge before my drink was halfway down the glass. Useless.

  9. Some years ago I read that shopper bags that have contained meat should never be re-used to carry groceries, especially if that meat was chicken. So I listened to them. Perhaps the experts were wrong? Perhaps bags for life repel pathogens like salmonella?

  10. Am I misreading something here? It looks like Europeans have to *purchase* their grocery bags!

  11. @Damian

    In seriousness, a good shopping trolley is ace. Little old ladies can convey quite easily what a fit younger man struggles with lugging two-bags-per-hand. They deserve to be used more – publicity in itself is likely not enough, would help if pavements had fewer cracks and less doggy deposition.

  12. So you blew a definite shag over an argument about carrier bags.

    What would Freud make of that?

    And if you are old enough, there was a Mary Whitehouse sketch on just that.

  13. So you blew a definite shag over an argument about carrier bags.

    Did I now? 🙂

  14. Instead of wring another book, have you considered writing a sit-com about an ex-oil engineer and his conversations with different ladies – would be cringe comedy at it’s finest!

    The McDonald’s straws are recyclable, they’re just not able to be recycled with the current waste stream.

    Don’t forget plastics straws are banned from April 2020 in the UK – so stock up now.

  15. Plastic straws?
    Isn’t the Trump campaign selling them @ $1 each?
    I should send Trumpy a few bucks & get a stock in now.
    Hopefully they come with “MAGA Trump MAGA Trump is God” or something written on them.
    I’d buy several hundred, just to maximise my vicarious ecstasy by giving them out at parties & lurking until the middle class women notice what they’re putting between their lips.

  16. We’ve had several of the old Tesco blue ‘bags for life’ for at least 5 years now. They are in use every week, often carrying a good load of bottles and cans. I keep waiting for signs of wear in the handles and the base but they just keep in going. Now I’m not really a throwaway kind of person, but if I’m at all typical of a fraction of the public then some people must be up in the hundreds per year to get an average of 44.

  17. I buy a ‘bag for life’ at least once a week. They get stuffed into another bag which, when full, is delivered to a charity shop who are always very thankful. And I don’t have to go shopping looking like a bag lady with hoarding psychosis.

  18. I ordered a milkshake and it came with a paper straw which turned into sludge before my drink was halfway down the glass. Useless.

    I buy them in bulk from Chinese bulk web sites and carry them with me. When a restaurant gives me one of those shit straws, I leave a fistfull of the plastic ones in my glass before leaving.

    A few weeks ago I called the manager over, quietly and patiently explained that all this plastic straw nonsense was based on a made up number in a fifteen year old’s science fair project and that he was failing restaurant management 101 – namely, pissing off paying customers thanks to an idiot Facebook fad. I asked him how many customers he would stand to lose permanently if he simply carried on as usual with plastic straws, and how he would even determine that. Then I pointed out that he’d absolutely lost one regular paying customer by inflicting paper straws on them, and that I would be calling head office and telling them exactly this. Along with his name.

    If you don’t apply a negative signal, the system never corrects.

  19. Daniel Ream – The larger restaurant chains have been taken over by lefty ideologues.

    Why wouldn’t customers want paper straws – it’s doing the right thing after all.

    Where once business was (in the style of Jessie J) ‘all about the money, money, money’ these days it’s ‘all about the virtue, virtue, virtue'(-signalling).

  20. This story seems to illustrate the dark underbelly of Brexit.

    Presumably, some snot-nosed overpaid little civil servant with a degree in Appreciation of Lesbian Dance wrote a regulation clamping down on plastic bags, which was then adopted with minimal democratic input. Now every poor Brit has to put up with the loss of freedom associated with this ill-founded dictation of personal behavior. And this was not the EU! This was your very own British bureaucracy.

    The UK can leave the EU — but unless Brits get serious about their own home-grown intrusive bureaucracy, they will find that the sunlit uplands of freedom are as far away as ever.

  21. Fatmatt
    “I buy a ‘bag for life’ at least once a week. They get stuffed into another bag which, when full, is delivered to a charity shop who are always very thankful. And I don’t have to go shopping looking like a bag lady with hoarding psychosis.”

    Yeap, this is what I have done, however here in NZ all plastic bags with handles have now been banned, so I put my shopping in the plastic veggie bags they still give away for free.

  22. We get through, at minimum, 6 bags per week. It’s very rare that we re-use them for shopping. At 15p in Asda, they make for rather expensive bin bags; but we’re wasteful people.

    So I can quite believe the average is 44 per year. The figure seemed very low to me compared to my 300+, but then I read the comments above and realised that people actually do use remarkably few.

    A new Aldi store opened in town recently and we gave it a try. They had sold out of plastic bags (this was only two days after opening, so more proof there that people use a lot) so we had to buy paper ones, which were 19p. They’re large bags but I thought it was rather steep and would probably put people off using them. Especially on a rainy day.

  23. I am convinced that for women its feelings and aesthetics.
    Feel good about saving the environment and look good at the same time. The ability to look down on poor people with those nasty plastic turtle killers probably helps.

  24. “If you don’t apply a negative signal, the system never corrects.”

    Not sure about that anymore it seems that some businesses don’t see a hit to their bottom line as something of concern, provided that it is for the greater social good. See Gillette’s recent financial result. Call your customers rapists, lose them and turn loss making doing it, is the new black.

    Fortunately for me being the man of the house, the number of bags the lady in my life utilises in fetching the shopping, is not something that I need concern myself about.

    …………………………………………………………………..

    Gillette cut by $8B loss after ‘toxic masculinity’ ad

    Shaving away profits

    “P&G reported a net loss of about $5.24 billion – or $2.12 per share – for the quarter ended June 30, due to an $8 billion non-cash writedown of Gillette,” Reuters announced. “For the same period last year, P&G’s net income was $1.89 billion, or 72 cents per share.”

    Looking at the sales figures, emasculating men to embrace their so-called feminine side and shave away their masculinity through an ad that demeans men and caters to feminists, the LGBT community and social justice warriors is apparently not the way to go if the men’s toiletry division wants to survive – Gillette was founded 118 years ago and purchased b P&G in 2005 for $57 billion.

    https://onenewsnow.com/business/2019/08/02/gillette-cut-by-8b-loss-after-toxic-masculinity-ad

  25. “But they want their dumb personal preferences turned into national legislation without the slightest consideration of the broader consequences”

    I’ve had many fruitless conversations with a yacht owning family member regarding the lunacy that is current (sic) UK energy policy. On one occasion I asked if she was happy to undertake all her sailing trips WITHOUT being allowed to start the “backup” diesel engine, and got the “Does Not Compute” look. If you can’t get through to people like that, there’s no hope…

    “I’d buy several hundred”

    Like many people I use the free bags as kitchen bin liners, so they were never “Single Use”. When the ban came in I bought 500 from a local packaging firm (about £10, as I recall), and cheaper than dedicated liners. I’m about half way through that lot, and now we have a council supplied “Slop Bucket” the remaining ones will last much longer. I also have some Sainsbury’s “Bags For Life” and they last for several years with sensible treatment. I make a point of washing them out with disinfectant solution from time to time, in view of the comments about infection risks.

  26. As we all know that women are the most easily manipulated demographic (1. Will I fit in with the ‘group’ if I do this. 2. Does it make me a good person)

    Living out in the sticks we try to make any trips multi tasking. This morning when I went to the gym I picked up the Lidl shopping list as Lidl is close to the gym. When I got back the conversation went:

    Me: I couldn’t get X.

    Mrs BiND: I didn’t think you’d get it from Lidl. I’ll lok for it next time I’m in town.

    Me: Order it on line.

    Mrs BiND: I’m trying to reduce online shopping [news to me]. I’m worried about all the packaging.

    Me: There’s the same amount in the shops and warehouses, if not more.

    Mrs BiND: Yes I know, but it makes me feel better.

    Me: *wanders off shaking head, again*

    I presume the BBC had been having one of their social/moral panics over this issue?

  27. Tim,

    Have you seen this?

    Leakage occurs when partial regulation of consumer products results in increased consumption of these products in unregulated domains. This article quantifies plastic leakage from the banning of plastic carryout bags. Using quasi-random policy variation in California, I find the elimination of 40 million pounds of plastic carryout bags is offset by a 12 million pound increase in trash bag purchases—with small, medium, and tall trash bag sales increasing by 120%, 64%, and 6%, respectively. The results further reveal 12–22% of plastic carryout bags were reused as trash bags pre-regulation and show bag bans shift consumers towards fewer but heavier bags. With a substantial proportion of carryout bags already reused in a way that avoided the manufacture and purchase of another plastic bag, policy evaluations that ignore leakage effects overstate the regulation’s welfare gains.

    If you don’t want to read it all its summarised here by the NPR Planet Money team and there’s an embedded podcast.

  28. I find as I walk in towns and countryside (Scotland) little offerings to Gaia enclosed in little plastic bags by the footpath side and often artfully hung in bushes. The depositors obviously believe that the dog poo inside will degrade faster and in a more environmentally friendly way than if was just left unpacked on the ground. Somebody buys these bags.

  29. Doesn’t work for the milkshakes but a McD coffee cup lid fits perfectly on the soft drink cup and seems to work ok.

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