Most of you are aware of the famous Australian baggy-green cap. But in the two months or so that we have been here, our eyes have mostly caught the ubiquitous green bag. From the early morning shoppers at the farmer’s market to the fashionable strollers around trendy downtown boutiques, almost every second person or so seems to be carrying one of these.
The motive behind the bags is of course to reduce the environmental impacts of non-biodegradable plastic bags (which not everyone recycles) by encouraging people to carry their shopping in reusable bags. Since these are cheaply priced (1 AUD) and widely available at grocery stores and retailers , even if you forget to bring your bag while shopping, you can always pick up a new one (we have three in our collection already). The bags are also quite sturdy enough to hold about a third of regular weekly grocery for two people (non-scientific observation by yours truly).
Not surprisingly, the concept came about through a government initiative that threatened retailers with huge fines if the use of plastic bags was not discouraged. But Australians have seemingly bought into the ideology in a big manner taking the green bags to the level of fashion statement of sorts. Additionally, following the success of green bags, you can also find black bags at liquor stores (often with nifty separators for ease of carrying multiple wine bottles), pink bags from the teen-fashion outlet Supre etc.
Of course, there has been criticism too – most notably of environmental snobbishness and hypocrisy. Not to mention that the bags themselves are not biodegradable. But while the bags themselves are not a solution to all environmental problems, I am for anything that encourages re-usage. It would be difficult and indeed unnecessary to completely abolish plastic bag usage, but having a cheap alternative is a great way to prevent wastefulness.
(in an unrelated note, most Australian grocery chains don’t put their logos on the plastic bags unlike their US counterparts)
Interestingly, growing up in India, I remember every household having similar kinds of bags for daily or weekly gorcery shopping. Plastic bags did not really appear in the Kolkata markets till the late 80s when ironically they gained huge popularity.
In the US, I think green-bags will be a non-starter other than certain urban enclaves and San Francisco. In Carborro, NC where I lived for a while, the local cooperative did offer similar bags, but those were priced too high (although they did offer the bags free when you signed up as a member). Note that Australia uses Chinese manufacturers for the bags which keeps the costs down – you cannot be both pro-environment and pro-local industry while being cost-conscious. Moreover, even if the green-bag is to gain popularity in US, the dimensions of the bag need to change as most items in Australia are sold in shelf sizes much smaller to what is available in the US !