Friday, April 27, 2007

I'm Also Not A Plastic Bag!

Photograph copyright Louisa McKenzie.

If you are in the UK, you have to have been living under a rock for the past few days, or at least had something very time consuming to do, if you haven't heard about Anya Hindmarch/Sainsbury's "eco-friendly" non-plastic carrier bag. It has received extensive media coverage (print, TV and radio). Here is a swift recap for the uninitated: the bag cost £5, it has been produced in limited number, it has been photographed on the arm of several trendy celebrities (none of whom had to join the 3am queues for the bag, I should imagine), it is now sold out. The bag was designed by Anya Hindmarch and was first available in her shops, in the aforementioned limited number. There were long queues and many disappointed people. The "£5 bag" is now changing hands for ever increasing sums on eBay (over £200 at the last count). A second consignment of the bags was available, in limited number, in Sainsburys stores. There were long queues starting a 3am etc, etc.
Now, the sentiment which produced this bag is more than admirable. Of course we should be thinking about reducing our impact on this earth by using fewer plastic carrier bags. Some shops are already swapping to eco-friendly, recyclable and bio-degrable paper: Selfridges and Primark (now is not the time to discuss the ethics of the latter) are two examples. However, the furore surrounding this particular bag shows that whilst some of its buyers might be environmentally friendly, the majority just want to have the latest fashion accessory. Anya Hindmarch's chic design of course adds to the popularity. I'm sure no-one would have bought an "ugly" eco-friendly bag. It also has to be argued that those who are environmentally conscious have already been using shopping bags made from eco-friendly materials. They don't need a "special" bag to make them do it. Neither should you. Don't buy into the hype. Pick one of any number of eco-friendly cloth bags and take them out with you when you shop. Decline offers of plastic bags from retailers and pop your purchases in the one bag. This way you can be different - pick a bag which has a slogan or picture which appeals to you. There is no fun in following the herd. Often exhibitions are a good place to find these bags. Museums usually produce at least one example for every major exhibition. The one pictured above is produced by the V&A in association with their magnificient Surrealism exhibition. I use it as an example because it is roughly comparable in size to "the bag". There are many great examples to be found in all sorts of places. There are also plenty of companies able to put your own photos on bags.
Of course, the media furore does at least mean that the need for eco-friendly bags is broadcast to a wider spectrum of the public. I hope that "the bag" succeeds in bringing public awareness to this topic. In particular, there is a lack of adequate shopping trolleys available in this country. You wouldn't be able to carry many groceries from the weekly shop in one little bag. City dwellers, those without cars, or those who seek to reduce their carbon-footprint by walking to and from the shops really need to pull their groceries, rather than stagger along with very heavy, shoulder-wrenching bags. English shopping trolleys are hopeless - either old fashioned or impractical and not very strong. Cross over the Channel and the French have applied their typical je ne sais pas to the matter. There you can find elegant, pretty trolleys, adorned with large photos of flowers, or with cartoons, or just in plain, bright colours. They are strong and perfect. I have two and they are invaluable.
Therefore, if you really want to make a difference to the environment, you don't have to rush out and buy the latest bag, just find one you like for yourself and use that instead!

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