In a remarkable policy directive, Nick Clogg has announced a 5p tax on plastic bags in large supermarkets with effect from 2015. Stores will be asked to donate the proceeds to charity – on a voluntary basis. Oh, right!
What a body blow! For years I’ve taken their supply for granted. And I’ve acted responsibly – recycling them for shopping, lining waste bins and packing liquids in suitcases. Not until a bag is ruined do I discard it to landfill. Honestly!
To me the use of plastic bags is under control, not just through my valiant efforts but with new technology. Bags are being made with landfill in mind – the Co-op’s compostable ones even instruct you to send them there. Yet Cloggers is adamant that a Bag Tax should become the lasting record of his spell as Camshaft’s personal assistant. I don’t see why I should pay the price for this bureaucratic balderdash, so I’ve looked at the alternatives and made a plan.
I considered getting a so-called Bag for Life made of thicker plastic. With care this would last longer. But in the end it too would need disposing of and wouldn’t break down as fast as a skinny one.
I thought about a wheelie bag – with a tartan design. Or a hessian bag or wicker basket, though I’d need four or five for a weekly shop. And these all have man-image problems. A wheeled suitcase was a possibility – to stir up interest with far-flung stories about my adventures in Manchuria and The Gabon.
I ruled out rummaging for bags in litter bins – not good in a small town – but did briefly toy with using cardboard boxes again. When I started running a B&B in Shropshire, I was obsessed with keeping costs down. In my memoir, Utterly Undiscovered, I show how I saved a fortune by avoiding parking charges, walking a mile every week laden with boxes. Here’s what happened:
Kwik Save doesn’t have plastic bags; empty boxes for customers to self-pack are in a large bin by the checkout. So every week I take a pleasant stroll across the park with a cardboard box.
After we get a second cat, I can easily buy enough to fill two boxes, peering round the carefully balanced duo to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. People turn to follow my progress across the park as if I’m a straggler in some sort of triathlon.
As spring turns to summer, business picks up and I need three boxes. No longer able to see round the tower, I follow the tarmac path below as best I can. Word has spread, and small groups gather in anticipation every Thursday, their smiles and cheers spurring me on.
In time, it becomes a continuous throng, two or three deep, lining the road much as they do The Mall when royalty is due to pass. From the park gates I can hear the hum of the waiting crowd – women with children, joggers, dog walkers and shop workers using lunch breaks to witness the shopping phenomenon. Council gardeners lean on their hoes, and the ice cream man has a perfect view from the raised window of his van.
As I stagger past, applause ripples down the rows like a Mexican wave. If I falter with a particularly heavy load, someone from the crowd steps alongside to steer me towards the squeaky bridge. A small girl darts from the front to retrieve a can of Felix that topples from the overfilled top box, and has fun looping it back in. What a story to tell her grandma!
That really was hard work, and it wasn’t long before I started shopping at Tesco’s, parking outside like everyone else.
With the Bag Tax only applying to stores of more than 250 employees, I wondered about shopping at a smaller supermarket or calling in to grab a handful of their bags on the way to a larger store. Bit unfair, I thought.
But I like plastic bags and want to stick with them. So here’s my plan. I’m acquiring bags literally for life. Given that I may live to 95, I’ll have 28 shopping years left after the tax comes in. I normally get through about 10 new plastic bags a week, so over 28 years I’ll need 14,560 plastic bags. Which means I need to stock up with 187 new bags a week in the remaining 78 tax-free weeks to avoid being stung for tax.
With stealth, a good deal of double-bagging and only one item per bag, I think I can do it. Okay, there’ll be a storage problem. Like most people’s understairs cupboards mine bulges with screwed-up bags, and 187 a week will make the door even harder to close, and probably break the lock. But it’ll be worth it to avoid Clogg’s Bag Tax.
And in case I don’t reach 95, I’ve provided in my will for the remaining stock to go to family. At 5p a bag there’s money under the stairs! The solicitor can sort out the inevitable dispute.
So here I am, three weeks into the New Year, with 561 bags already bowing the cupboard door. It’s going very well – I’m on target and determined! I do wonder what state the country would be in if no-one attended to environmental issues seriously like this?
Paul Costello © January 2014
UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello
Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!
Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions