Eulogy for the last plastic bag

Insights Newsletter
1 February, 2019

Tidying guru Marie Kondo advises her followers to hold or hug everyday items and ask yourself: “Does this item spark joy?”

So I picked up a plastic bag and clutched it to my chest. I first felt joy, and then an overwhelming grief. The moment I had been dreading had arrived: my household had reached the last of our plastic bags.

As my tears splashed off the plastic folds, I reflected on the injustice of the impending plastic bag ban. The ban that began with an unforgivable slur: single-use. There is nothing single-use about plastic bags.

Apart from the one I immediately threw away after raw chicken juice had leaked into it.

Plastic bags sheltered my groceries from the rain. They protected my kitchen bin from smelly food waste. They encased my wet togs in summer and muddy sports shoes in winter. They even saved my holiday from disaster by containing a shampoo suitcase explosion.

The plastic bag did not deserve to die so soon. There were other options available.

The government had an arsenal of economics tools at its disposal, such as introducing a levy, to address purported externalities The government also does not appear to understand human behaviour, and whether people will simply purchase bin liners or dispose of these new-fangled ‘multi-use’ bags at the same rate as ‘single-use’ bags.

It is difficult to let plastic bags rest in peace when there is no good cost-benefit analysis that would help me understand and accept their demise.

I’m already beginning to forget the soft rustling sounds plastic bags make. But now I learn that plastic bags were only the first to fall in a bigger war.

There is talk of banning ‘unnecessary’ plastic. A smear as egregious as ‘single-use’ bags.

Will the bags for bread loaves be next on the chopping block? The plastic that holds together a dozen rolls of toilet paper? What about the wrapping that keeps cucumbers fresh, the snaplock bags used at the bulk bins, or the plastic trays of muffins that protect them from being crushed?

There are no clear rules on what constitutes ‘unnecessary’. But there is pressure on consumers and supermarkets to change their ways without addressing the woeful lack of recycling facilities and viable alternatives.

Alas, perhaps this plastic war is a lost cause. But as I cut into my steak, I cannot help but wonder: what next?

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