Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Can Supermarkets Stop Being Generous with Plastic Bags

Towards every month end, I do the usual grocery shopping. I visit my favourite supermarket, Shoprite this is not a shameless plug and do my usual rounds through the aisles. When I am eventually done I end up leaving with my groceries in on average 10 different plastic bags. In case you haven’t already realised that is a lot of plastics for one household. I am no environmentalist but clearly unless the undue generosity of supermarkets comes to an immediate halt, we have an environmental crisis waiting to happen.
Plastic bags from one month grocery shopping

According to experts, plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade and in the process they release harmful toxins into the soil, rivers and lakes. Do not worry that is as much a geography lesson I will go into. In Zambia, the desire to pack everything in plastic bags is increasing by the day, buy an apple from the vendor in the street she will put it in a plastic, buy a coke from a store it will come in a plastic, purchase a pencil be rest assured it will probably be given to you in a plastic. It appears as if the size of the item does not matter, if it can fit in a plastic you are most likely going to be given one. I reckon if a fridge could fit in a plastic bag, it would be delivered that way.

My best guess at why plastics are dished out so generously is that they should be very cheap to produce. They should cost a couple of ngwees each. Therefore, they can be purchased in bundles to be given out freely. I have often taken a conscious step to avoid getting a plastic bag when I am purchasing a singular item from a supermarket or store. However, I will admit that sometimes I cannot resist the urge to accept the plastic bag that is given to me. May the environment forgive me, as I have been part of the problem 

The scenerio in most supermarkets
In as much as plastic usage is currently a huge problem, it can be easily reduced in great proportion by a simple solution. In 2008, I had the privilege of visiting Germany and I realised their solution to reducing this plastic generosity was rather simple, charge people for every plastic bag at the supermarket or store. The tellers and packers would deliberately ask you whether you needed a plastic or not, if you said yes the price of your plastics was added to your final bill. The result of this is people often carried their own bags or re-used the plastic bags they already had. The other striking thing was that by the tellers asking you whether you required a plastic, you were deliberately made away to think twice.  Now this does not take an Einstein to implement in Zambia, this should be fairly easy.

My proposal is not that plastics in supermarkets should cost 2ngwee that is too cheap. Plastic bags should cost say K1 each for the pinch to be felt. I can almost guarantee you that the number of plastic bags coming out of the supermarkets would be drastically reduced. If not this then plastics should carry a heavy tax on them so that charitable givers reconsider the next time they hand out a plastic bag. Perhaps if this gesture was implemented the almost extinct baskets will return. I do remember carrying bottles of soft drinks and bread in a straw basket. Alas, my young siblings are absolutely clueless of the existence of a basket because it has been replaced by the plastic bag.

I am not advocating for the abolishing of plastic bags from our supermarkets and stores, absolutely not. The point I am trying to cut across is that most of the times we don’t really need the plastic bag in the first place. We need to start developing a society that is more conscious about its environment and the repercussions for our present and future generations. If nothing will move you go to a compound and look at any drainage. I dare you to return and tell me you found a plastic free drainage. So yes this is my first step towards the campaign to make supermarkets start charging customers for the plastics bags they generously offer.

Are you willing to join my campaign?


  1. Iwe you should be serious! Payin K1 is not good busines marketing. The only thing governnent can do is to compel use of paper bags by law and let companies do absorption costing into there products. Customers like 'free' things..

    1. Hey Anonymous, plastic bags should not be used as a marketing tool. Government talking will not lead to anything, it is deliberate action that will create the change. The supermarkets definitely put the plastic bags into their costings. Your last comment ,"Customers like free things" is the very reason why a plastic bag should be K1 because then you will not just be getting them for everything you purchase.

  2. that wont be interpreted as good customer service. A brief reminder of how using plastics in Zambi came about. Shoprite was the supermarket that brought about the plastic revolution. K1 is minimal but that is the same reason why stores display prices as K9,999 instead of K10,000. The customer feels hes been done a favour.