A Plethora of Plastic Bags

As you drive, or more correctly are driven, through the villages and farmland regions of many of the poorer South-East Asian countries, you notice a peculiar type of weed sprouting in the land-fill areas, in newly tilled fields ready for sowing, in ground leveled for building sites. This slight, wind-tossed, multi-colored weed looks familiar.

Shopping bags, small fruit bags, drinks bags, bags for putting other bags in. Fading ever so slowly in the tropical sun, they poke their non-bio-degradable noses out in small tufts wherever someone has turned over a spade-full of ground. In Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, I have seem them densely clogging the roadsides, the fields and small plots of garden near village homes.

There are so many plastic bags there. You have NO IDEA how many plastic bags there are. Their tell-tale puffs of shiny reflectivity extend to the horizon. Do we ship all our plastic bags to these countries for disposal?

The world will one day choke like a dolphin does on these bags, the fertile earth itself usurped by mega-tonnes of immortal shopping bags.


E@L has been trying not to use them, or at least to reduce his usage. You have to have some it seems to put your rubbish into, right? And it is difficult when you have so much junk many essential items to purchase at the big weekly supermarket splurge. Certainly, during the week he puts the lunch-time fruit and yoghurt he buys in the morning on the way to his office into his brief-case. "No bag please." The lady is startiing to remember him for this eccentricity. He is only going upstairs, and his brief-case doesn't have anything seriously work-related or important in it anyway, it's just to carry his reading material. At home, he takes his recycled "TheAge" shopping bag, stolen from his mum in Australia, to the Cold Storage up the road for smaller purchases, like those missing ingredients you always forget.

An example of the ridiculous over-usage of plastic bags here in Singapore - at BreadTalk, E@L buys two sesame rolls (for his Vegemite splurge the other night!). The girl puts each one in its own plastic bag, and then both bags in another plastic bag. That's three plastic bags for two bread rolls.

He says, "One plastic bag please." The attendant looks at him like he is crazy.

He say, "Now YOU have responsibility of disposing of these other plastic bag and my conscience is clear(er)."

If enough people do this, BreadTalk might reduce their orders for bags, the manufacturers will reduce the production of plastic bags, and steadily the clogging on the earth's arteries will be slowed somewhat. That's the theory. I choose to believe it. (Side effect: The workers in the plastic bag factories will be laid off, there will be marked social unrest and the Government will be toppled with a People Power Revolution.)


Plastic shopping bags are being phased out in Australia. Somebody told E@L that supermarkets companies like Safeway and Woolworths will be fined if shopping bags with their names on them are found in the street as litter. Not sure if that is true, but what a great idea.

E@L is very pleased to see that cheap recyclable bags are now for sale at Cold Storage and Carrefours (at least.) He has bought several more to augment his "TheAge" bag, and will use them for those big shopping days whenever he goes from home.

Please act responsibly. Save the earth, save the dolphins, save the farmlands of SE-Asia's developing countries and use recyclable bags as often as you can.


The "big deal it's only plastic" attitude may be hard to shake however in Asia. At a touristy fish feeding cave near Mae Hong Son in Thailand, E@L saw a Japanese man sprinkle dried fish-food he had just purchased for 5 baht into the creek as the fish, frenzied with fishy gluttony went crazy. He shook it all out of a small plastic bag. He laughed at the merry antics of the "crap" fish and, when the bag was empty, he simply dropped it into to the creek on top of the fish.

E@L, not always one to shy away from a confrontation (not because he is by nature aggressive in the least, but because he knows he LOOKS aggressive and has learned that he can get away with feigned aggro when he chooses his antagonists carefully - like abusing his blog readers, what can they do?), promptly gave him a blast of his mind.

He had no idea what E@L was raving about.

"That, that plastic bag - you can't, [you stupid can't] you can't just throw it into the water like that, you savage! Look at this country, it's beautful and you're just going to throw your plastic around like it was... harmless?"

May as well have been talking to a dog. His understanding? "Blah blah blah blah Rover blah blah Rover blah blah blah..."

He looked at me like I was crazy too.

I am not crazy. It's the rest of the world that's crazy.


I'm going back to reading my novel. A Void by Georges Perec. An entire novel written (first in French then, qu'elle mirable!, translated by Gilbert Adair - no mean novelist hisself- into English) without once using the letter "E".

And you think *I'm* crazy? You might be, write.



Posted by: expat@large on Mar 10, 06 | 9:40 pm | Profile


Being a well trained person, when I do my grocery shopping I always take a couple of rucksacks to carry the shopping...easier to carry and saves on plastic bags....the system works in Hong Kong, Jordan, the UK, Germany...basically anywhere but Manila...they don't allow you to put the shopping directly into the rucksack...it has to be plastic bagged...and then put into the rucksack....just so the security guards don't think I stole anything.....

Posted by: Madame Chiang on Mar 11, 06 | 9:14 am

There are SO FEW of us responsible people left, ya? In the 70's and even early 80's if you weren't recycling, bulk-buying hippy then you were a proto-fascist, up there with Hitler and Henry Kissinger...

But like Hunter S. said: that hippy generation's tide turned back - the high-water mark just in hills outside LA...

The fact people still read and take Ayn Rand seriously is one indication of how low we have sunk.

Posted by: expat@large on Mar 13, 06 | 5:33 pm


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