“Would you like a bag with that?”

“Would you like a bag with that?”

It was less of a polite sales offer and more of a violent ethical challenge. And it must have been the 30th time I’d heard the same brutal question in the same brutal tone that week.

As you know, the Western shopper should always answer, “No”. He will then flourish a sustainable hemp sack, an item ideally imprinted with a slogan like “Powered by Tofu”. The clerk and shopper will then smile in a moment of benign conspiracy and wordlessly congratulate each other for saving the Earth.

One should never simply answer, “Yes” to the offer of a plastic bag. Before accepting a poison petrochemical pouch, you must qualify your evil. You should say, “Well, as I’ve left my renewable Hessian ‘Act Local, Think Global’ shopping bag in the bio-fuel tractor back at the organic avocado collective from which I recently cycled with my pals at Critical Mass, I guess I’ll have to say yes.” You might want to add, “I really like dolphins, you know”.

You never, ever answer, “Yes. I’d like a plastic bag”. Because, of course, you wouldn’t like one as they’re slowly choking Gaia. Plastic bags have become an emblem of self-assertive consumer greed. Their use will make you a social pariah. There is no place for plastic bags in our evolved and earth-loving culture. The only acceptable use for a plastic bag is as a shitty metaphor in cinema.

But. Still. I resent the tone of the question almost as much as I resent the sight of “Green” shopping bags tumbling from the back of a luxury four-wheel drive stuffed with children each attached to at least three power-hungry portable media devices.

So. At the bookshop in the nice suburb full of four-wheel drives and compassionate intent, I broke. When the clerk asked me “Would you like a bag with that”. I answered, “Yes. And could you possibly make sure it’s plastic.”

The words flew out of my mouth like chemical waste from a developing economy. I thought, “Stuff you, Kyoto protocol” and I looked at the wealth that surrounded me on all sides and thought, “Well, why shouldn’t I commit a little environmental offence, too?” In this way, I was very much like China.

By the look on the face of the attendant quite used to selling ladies in four-wheel drives “literary” books about How Hard It Is To Be a Muslim Woman (why do white, middle-class women adore these books so? Is it because they quietly resent the shackles of tennis bracelets, lunch and nicely pressed trousers?) I’d done something terrible. I may as well have said, “No. I don’t want a bag. But do you mind if I take a dump in the fantasy section?”

Once I’d started, I couldn’t seem to stop. “Make it a double bag. Two plastic bags, thanks. I wouldn’t want to drop my book.

“Better make it three. I’m off to McDonald’s after this and I find that they rarely provide me with sufficient packaging.”

A rarefied life of servility spent in the company of posh ladies tends to toughen up the average sales clerk. I may have been the most morally offensive customer she’d seen all week. But, no doubt, I was not the most difficult.

“Do you know what plastic bags are doing to the environment?” she asked.

My blood sugars must have been careening. Because I mumbled something about her, really, not having to worry as I would shortly dispose of the plastic bags somewhere safe. Like Orca’s blow-hole.

Lest you decide to kill me or hack my Twitter account, I should advise: I generally do employ re-usable bags. But I’ve had almost too much of this conspicuous compassion.

It’s enough to make me bury myself in the biodynamic dirt.

10 comments for ““Would you like a bag with that?”

  1. Michael
    February 17, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Would those who castigate the supply of plastic bags prefer that I leave the copious faecal products of my labrador for the entertainment of all?

  2. February 17, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Ah, I miss plastic bags. They’re outlawed here in SA. Er, well, you can still BUY them at the supermarket when you forget your eco-friendly green bags and don’t want to fork out more money for more green bags to leave at home when you go shopping.

    And I still have to buy plastic bags for my kitchen rubbish bin. Plastic bag manufacturers must love our premier, Media Mike. They probably sell more bags than before he banned ’em.

  3. pussinboots
    February 17, 2010 at 9:32 am

    Here, here.

    I sometimes take plastic bags – to line my kitchen bin, so I don’t have to buy double-packaged, coloured lavender scented waste bags. Seriously, how many dolphins could be deoderised with the scent it takes to lavender-ise my kitchen refuse?

    Oh and totally with you about the middle-class children. Plastic bags schmastic bags – the most ecologically irresponsible thing one can do these days is breed profusely.

    • February 17, 2010 at 9:33 am

      Testify, puss! Little carbon munchers.

  4. njptower
    February 17, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Plastic bags, dog faecal matter and small children (preferably middle to bogan class) and faux environmentalism – thanks Helen for inspiring fun thoughts

  5. Eccles9
    February 17, 2010 at 9:51 am

    In South Australia it’s even worse, plastic bags are outlawed and you’re charged $0.10 for a biodegradable alternative.

    (Although naturally the cost of the bags is still built in to shelf prices)

    On those rare times when I don’t have my non-child labour commune made woven mung bean alternatives to hand, I like to reply to the plastic bag question, ‘Yes please, I have a dolphin to choke’.

  6. February 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Miss Occam – the plastic bag thing is a complete fabrication, I did the leg work here: http://bit.ly/8Ups6d

    Ash’s notes: the study they based the “100,000 dolphins a year killed by plastic bags” premise on was all on was about fishing nets, in a study over 4 years, 25 years ago.

    The Govt then misappropriated it and the stupid Greeny factions misused their influence to make this idiocy a widespread “fact”.

    Also see:
    http://savetheplasticbag.com/ReadContent609.aspx

    Now for a collective *sigh* and eye-rolling…

  7. muze
    February 18, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Come out to Eastland to shop. There’s no stigma of plastic bag users here.
    “Here, let me double bag that for you; these things are so flimsy. ”
    “Would you like a bag?” “Yes, please.” with a big grin.
    Even though it goes from the counter to the trolley to the car boot. We wouldn’t want our goodies falling about all over the driveway in the 10 feet to the door. And then I can double bag my kitchen bin and my cat poo bin since these flimsy plastic bags sometimes get annoying holes in them. I don’t remember ever buying bin liners.
    They should make the bins a better size to accommodate my reuse though. Drop something too heavy in and kerplunk. The 6 inches of fresh air in the bin under the bag bottom – drats again.
    I might have to go buy me a small plastic bucket to put upturned into the bottom of my kitchen bin. That’ll do the trick.
    Don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.
    Thanks!

  8. February 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Personally I’ve long felt the green bag movement is a way of making people buy more bin liners rather than reusing the plastic bags from the supermarket.

    Most people I know do find a way to reuse their plastic bags. I’ve been using a stock standard plastic bucket as my kitchen bin for years. Supermarket plastic bags fit nicely. If there’s a hole in the bag (& oft there is)(quality ain’t what it used to be these days)then I simply use 2 bags. I haven’t bought a roll of prettily scented bin liners since I converted to the plastic bucket. Saves a bit of money. Said plastic bucket was also a lot cheaper than a kitchen bin. Saves more money.

    Occasionally I do use the blue chiller bags (they’re sturdier than the green ones)for my shopping. Like when I have a drawer full of supermarket bags & don’t need any more for a week or two.

    The green bags are great for packing for a road trip, easier than a suitcase (clothes in one, food in another, raincoats in the next one etc.

    As a regular visitor to Adelaide I have learnt to cope with their no plastic bags rule. But I have noticed that the plastic bags in the fruit & vegie section are still available & most people seem to use them. What? Don’t these bags cause problems?

  9. Ethel Merman
    February 23, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    The sign at the checkouts admonishing people about asking for bags is just so crazed. Is society now equating plastic bag use to heroin addiction, and users just as evil as junkies? I always take plastic bags because why stock up on supermarket branded, thicker PLASTIC bags which will take centuries longer to break down anyway, and I need it to carry the cat litter when used. Call me an anarchist.

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