Demystifying 'Bag Ban Rage'

“The plastic bag ban is here to stay. It’s also the right thing to do. Let’s stop being a bunch of sooks and deal with it."—The Project

When ‘Bag Ban Rage’ starts becoming a recognised and widely used phrase, it's clear that as a society, we have taken three steps back.

When I found out that 'Bag Ban Rage' eventuated in an innocent check out worker being strangled and sworn at by a violent Woolworths customer, it made me question where the source of this rage is coming from. Could it really just be about the bag? Or is it something deeply seeded? When you hear stories like this, it's hard to not absorb that rage yourself, and even harder to physically resist the urge to smack your head against the keyboard.

The plastic bag ban—whilst questionably executed—is without question, a step in the right direction. No ifs or buts.

However, it's important to understand why some consumers think that it is not. Here are a few common arguments as to why we are seeing the resistance— 

Banning the bag does not address the overwhelming availability of plastic elsewhere in the supermarket, so why should we bother?
A massive chunk of what is available in supermarkets is packaged in single use plastic. And when it's not (fresh produce that is not pre-packaged) there are the plastic produce rolls. And replacing single-use plastic bags at check out with ‘multi-use’ plastic bags might not achieve a whole lot, on the surface. HOWEVER: Supermarkets are forcing behaviours to change, you will either start bringing your own bag, or forking out the cash for the new reusable ones. This behaviour change will have flow on effects for how you see other products. It might even trigger a new found passion for re-usable bags which then flow into the produce rolls!

Banning the bag is just replacing one single use plastic with another, more durable single use plastic.
Reusable bags need to be used at least 50 times in order for their environmental impact to be realised. Encouraging people to buy reusable bags without making sure these bags actually get reused an adequate number of times results in a worse result for the environment overall. HOWEVER: This doesn't have to be the case if we just use the bags that are already in our existence! But make sure you keep them clean, because..

Banning the bag can kill customers.
Back in 2007, San Francisco became the first American city to ban single-use shopping bags. A few years later, two legal academics looked at emergency room data and found that food-borne illnesses in San Francisco increased 46% after the bag ban went into effect. They conclusion claimed was that this was a result of people putting food into dirty reusable bags. “Our results suggest that the San Francisco ban led to, conservatively, 5.4 annual additional deaths." These claims were never substantiated and this case study ended up being a great example of correlation not necessarily implying causation. HOWEVER: You should still treat your single use bag like every other multi-use food product you own, and clean it. Just incase.

Obviously there was going to be backlash, there always is when new we have to deal with change. Think about the public uproar we endure when Facebook occasionally changes it's layout. As a collective, we do not cope well with change, but eventually we do. It might be annoying now and we will whinge and moan about it, but eventually it’ll just become the norm.

The resistance to this particular change has been on the aggressive side of things and it begs the question if people are just that resistant to change or if there is a underlying resistance to the contemporary social pressure to be 'green’. While the reactions have focused on the negative—there has been a positive outcome. It has drawn focus to the greater issue at hand—our over dependence on plastic.

Australia has had a real problem banning and taxing the single-use bags, Surely other countries are struggling too? On the contrary, here is a list of the countries who are apparently less dependant on plastic than we are:

Kenya. Mail. Cameroon. Tanzania. Uganda. Ethiopia. Malawi. Morocco. South Africa. Rwanda. Botswana. China. Bangladesh. Cambodia. Hong Kong. Indonesia. Malaysia. Taiwan. Denmark. Ireland. England. Italy. Wales. Scotland. Germany. Mexico. Canada. USA. Argentina. Brazil. Chile. Columbia.

That’s not to say the rest of the world is doing it perfectly and Australia is lagging behind—but we are certainly dragging our feet whilst having a whinge.

The polls that these big supermarket chains keep trotting out as a defence to their bag ban, demonstrate that the majority of the public were in favour for the ban. So if on the one hand we know we need to use less plastic for the earth's sake how are we then getting so aggravated at the very first baby steps to rectify the problem?

As we conclude Plastic Free July the rage seems to have died down slightly, so we’re really just creatures of comfort and convenience. Once we get over ourselves and suck it up, I'm sure everyone will happily join the bag ban bandwagon.

Serena Lee