06 August 2010

Would you like some garbage to go with that?

I've been getting fruit cups from the same little shop in Sheung Wan for 8 months now. Every time, I have to fight the woman who works there. She just can't fathom the idea that I don't want my fruit cup covered in an environmentally destructive, and completely useless, fruit-cup sized plastic bag. Apparently my refusal to take the bag is highly unusual.

At Aji Ichiban, not wanting massive amounts of unnecessary garbage creates massive amounts of confusion and frustration. I picked out some candy (each piece individually wrapped in plastic). I put that candy in the bags they supply. I brought the bag up to the counter. The clerk weighed it, told me the price and I paid. But before I left, she instinctively put that bag into another bag. When I protested this, she seemed really confused but eventually allowed me to exit the store with my candy only wrapped in one plastic bag. Apparently there is a grave danger of the first bag breaking or something. But it seems pretty sturdy. So what is going on here? What's the point of a bag-in-a-bag?

Before I moved to the Village, I was impressed to learn that your wise unelected officials had decided to put a 50 cent tax on each plastic bag. Now this is not exactly a carbon tax, but it is a pigovian tax, and pigovian taxes are something I'm highly in favor of. In fact, in a free-market fundamentalist place like this Village, it would make perfect sense for ALL taxes to be pigovian. Given how incredibly destructive these plastic bags are, I thought this bag tax was highly progressive.

Unfortunately, nobody gives a flying fuck about this tax, as it is too low and completely unenforced. With the exception of the big grocery store and convenience store chains, nobody seems to charge this fee for plastic bags. And even at the grocery stores, when I buy one item, like a piece of fruit, the inevitable question "need a bag?" is still asked. Why would I need to put my apple in a bag? I once tried to reason with the clerk, telling her that she shouldn't ask that question in that situation, because someone might say yes, and saying yes would be ridiculous and needlessly destructive. As you can imagine, this did not go over well: I just got a blank, confused and semi-angry stare.

Now don't get me wrong. Perhaps I shouldn't be casting the first stone here. After all, I use plastic bags too. But I do try to minimize how many I use. I use them multiple times, and I bring my own bag to the grocery store as much as I can. But getting one of these plastic bags for a single item that you can easily carry in your hand seems so mindlessly destructive. Can we all just try to be a little more mindful and sacrifice a little convenience (does your fruit cup or apple really need a disposable plastic handle?) for the environment? (BTW, the image above is of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, we have probably all contributed to it.)


  1. It is worse in a local bakery. If you buy 6 pieces of breads, they use a separate plastic bag for each and then use a bigger one to conclude your purchase. Once I brought a lunchbox for bread, they simply couldn't respond!

    Shops in the mainland are much better. They don't ask and don't give any bags away, even if you're going to take all groceries with your bare hands.

  2. That is certainly one area where the Mainland are ahead in the game (ironically mainly due to the fact it's less developed!)
    I remember the days when I was young, I used to go to the market (not supermarket) with my grandparents, and everything that you bought were tied with a piece of seaweed. We can carry the meat / fish without actually touching it, and it's very much bio-degradable.


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