The squeak of the trollies, the tantrums of the children, the slam of the register, the drone of ‘Hi, how are you today?’, the boop-boop of the scanner, the rustle of…wait—
‘Where are the bags?’
It’s Tracy, Bill, Janet, Craig, Sharon. They’re holding their bananas. There’s a crease in the space between their brows. Their expressions are indignant. The assisted-checkout machine sits innocently before them, declaring: ‘Please place item on scale.’
The bag rack is empty.
It’s D-day. The apocalypse.
The bag ban.
Retail workers thought they were prepared for the onslaught to be brought by the bag ban, but no one could have predicted the sheer entitlement of the suburban mums with their iPhones and SUVs as they berated supermarket team members for a change in legislation so far out of their control that it’s laughable.
‘Have we been told about this?’
There’s only been posters at every register for three months, Beth.
Their faces are red, contorted, outraged.
‘How do I get this to my car?’
‘The scale won’t register my own bag, what’s the point?’
‘I’m not paying fifteen cents for a bag.’
‘It’s helping the environment,’ is the battered shield I hold before myself—bludgeoned with every eyeroll.
‘This is nothing but a money-making scheme!’
My only satisfaction, the vindictive rage underneath all my ‘have a great day’s’, was seeing that small 15c added to the receipt, and then—
‘Why are you charging me, I thought the bags were complimentary?’
After a week of harassment supermarkets cave and bags are offered for free. The complimentary bags fly from the counters – an attempt to create an adjustment period – but only reaffirm the customers’ belief that they are right.
‘Are they free? Then I’ll take one. And shove a couple extra in.’
The most astounding part—even the youth come unapologetically, saying over the top of their Instagram feeds, ‘I’ll grab a bag, if you don’t mind.’ Well maybe I do mind, Becky.
I know we’ve all heard plenty about the bag ban. We’ve all seen the memes, watched the news, heard it on the radio. But seeing it all from the front lines, being sworn at and scolded over something as arbitrary as 15c or $1 for a bag has really illustrated the political climate in Australia concerning global warming, pollution and the environment. For every pleasant customer who has brought their own bag and sympathy, ‘Hope you’re not getting too much trouble over all this bag nonsense,’ there are two more yelling at me for scanning a bag—even when the price scans at nil—or asking for a bag for one item when I can clearly see the green bag hanging, empty, from their wrists.
Many customers have made it clear to me that they seem to think that reducing the use of plastic bags will make no impact on the environment. Or seem to disregard the environment all together. Some complain about the plastic packaging one can find containing some organic or pre-cut vegetables, claiming these are the real problem, while still asking for the complimentary bags.
Yes, it is true that the unnecessary plastic used to package fresh produce and other groceries is an enormous part of the problem. But eliminating single use plastic bags will certainly have a significant impact in rectifying this ever-growing problem:
“Eliminating single-use plastic bags from supermarkets means helping to cut back on more than 3000 tonnes of plastic litter that ends up in our oceans each year, that could otherwise choke turtles and ruin our beautiful coastlines.” Greenpeace
And I don’t know about you, but three hundred tonnes sure sounds like a hell of a lot to me, Karen. And no, I don’t care that you used to use the grey bags in your bin. Garbage bags are in isle 9, thank you.
“As of 2015, more than 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste had been generated. Around 9 percent of that was recycled, 12 percent was incinerated, and 79 percent accumulated in landfills or environment.” National Geographic
In this consumer culture our output of waste only grows. And unfortunately so does our apathy about anything that does not concern us directly. We, as a society, only care about what is convenient to us—damn the consequences.
But as you scavenge in the bin for extra receipts or beg the team member in the assisted checkout for extra little collectables, smiling down at your child who rips the packet open, grips the toy in their little fists and then tosses the wrapping to the side, it is them you are hurting.
While you, Greg, middle-aged and just waiting for that sweet retirement, may not care about the future of the planet beyond the beaches you plan to escape your partner and have your next mid-life crisis on, your children and your grandchildren may inherit a world where these beaches are no longer paradises but dumps.
More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans…Worldwide, 73 percent of beach litter is plastic: filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, and polystyrene containers. National Geographic.
It is true that the corporations carry responsibility, that they should be conscious of their output and try to be as sustainable as possible it is not the corporations—in my opinion—who should be blamed. The duopoly of supermarkets in Australia took a step in the right direction in embracing the bag ban nationwide. And yes, they may have stumbled here and there during the execution, but this was due purely to the consumer reaction.
In the end, as people—as Australians—we have an extremely influential voice. We live in a democracy that gives us the power to influence our country, our legislation, and thus our future. It is our responsibility to be informed, be conscious, and be active in our political climate—and this goes for all social issues, not just environmental ones—because we are the ones who will ultimately suffer if we refuse to take action and allow for change.
So please Mark, Lisa, Tom, Cheryl, stop yelling at the university students just trying to earn enough to pay the rent on their small, deteriorating apartments. Instead why not use your voice to support and encourage corporations trying to minimise their waste production, so that one day we can eliminate all unnecessary plastic packaging and protect the beaches that our nation is so proud of.
Have a great day,
Love from register 12.
Anonymous is a checkout-chick who, when not raging about plastic bags, likes to read and write LGBT romances.
Image supplied by the author.