The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Carrier Bag Etiquette

“Brown rice, free-range eggs and muesli; do we need anything else from the health food shop? No? Ok, can you pass me an old carrier bag? No, not a Tesco one!”

Good grief, you wouldn’t believe the politics behind the label of your used carrier bag.

OK, we all know that the billions of plastic carrier bags we accumulate from the supermarkets are not helping the environment, so if we can’t avoid collecting them then we should at least be reusing them at every opportunity.

Sunrise Wholefoods – our local health food shop – happily takes donations of old plastic bags to reuse for its customers, in case they forgot to bring one along themselves. However, while waiting to be served one afternoon I overheard a conversation with the customer in front as to whether they accepted Tesco carrier bags. The temperature dropped by several degrees as the offer was politely, but frostily refused.

Before we moved to this corner of Scotland, I ran a web design business in Alloa, a small town in Central Scotland that was considered to be a European Black Spot in terms of unemployment and poverty. The town had been built on coal mining, the textile industry and breweries. One by one they had closed down or moved out, leaving an area with twice the national unemployment rate. In a town that was dominated by pubs, betting shops and 99p stores (every item under £1), when Tesco announced they were to build a superstore it was greeted as a turning point in the town’s fortunes and they were welcomed with open arms for being one of the first waves of investment into the community.

The attempt to establish a Tesco store in Castle Douglas, on the other hand, was met by a great deal of hostility, primarily from the local shops who feared that Tesco’s renowned bully-boy tactics could create widespread closure of many businesses. 8 months after they opened, and there’s been no noticeable change in the high street.

Whether the fears were over-hyped or the effects are more likely to be felt in the long term are unknown at this point, but for many household items and groceries, the simple fact is that the quality is pretty good and the price is even better, so we have been known to shop there. In a divided community, however, it doesn’t always pay to advertise the Tesco brand on your used carrier bags.

A quick rummage through the pile, avoiding anything with white, blue and red on it, I happily grabbed a green plastic bag and headed for Sunrise Wholefoods.

Was that a funny look she gave me as I put the muesli into my not-Tesco-used-carrier? Perhaps it was a slight whiff of disapproval that I hadn’t insisted the brown rice be organic, or maybe she’d noticed my shoes were made with leather uppers. But no - it wasn’t until I got home that I realised my bag was advertising rival health food store chain, Holland & Barratt.

UPDATE - Sunrise Wholefoods


Calabar Gal said...

Well, I guess these little tiff occur in smaller towns. Who cares in the cities what carrier bag you've got? At least I dont....

jotcr2 said...

I love reading your observations of the ridiculous goings on in society.

Gyrobo said...

Dear Kim,

I am writing in letter form to confuse and befuddle further. Stop. Your post was most enjoyable. Stop. The ending was unexpected and humorous. Stop. Also, the message contains telegraph notation for reasons you're better off not knowing. Over and out.

Later, Gyrobo

Kim Ayres said...

Calabar Girl - welcome to my ramblings!

You're right - the bigger the town or city, the more anonymous you are, and the less it matters what your neighbours think. In fact, your carrier bag is as much a fashion accessory as a Nike label. You will be viewed differently if you are carrying a bag from Harvey Nichols, than if you had one from Asda. You've got to love our shallow society :)

Jo - thank you - I love you reading them too :)

Gyrobo - amongs the confusion and befuddlement I think you've just complimented me...

Dr Maroon said...

What is "Asda"?

Kim Ayres said...

Asda - also known as Walmart UK, is the 2nd biggest UK supermarket chain after Tesco. Tried to think of some witty and insightful response, but couldn't. Sorry.

OddMix said...

Very amusing. The same phenomenon (love them or hate them but nowhere in between) seems to prevail here with WalMart. Some think they are the savior of rural America, others thing they suck the life-blood from the land.

Personally, I am a firm believer in the "economists' law", aka supply and demand. I will shop where I get the items I need at the best price. Who needs life-blood, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Castle DOuglas is an interesting case though, we have four butchers and two bakers, two deli's and the aforementioned healthfood shop, all independants and locally owned. All told it's not a bad record for a town of 3 and a half thousand.

Stella said...

Dunno what happened but I was sure I replied to this, don't know what happened to my comment, it must be out there somewhere in cyberspace.

Anyway, enjoyed this one, could def. count as one of your funnies.

Also over here we have been relieved of that problem as there is a government levy on plastic carrier bags and I refuse to give them 15c a bag, so the shopping bag is back in fashion.

Kim Ayres said...

Oddmix - it's not always about price though. Sometimes it's about service and whether the shop will go the extra mile to secure what you're looking for rather than just stock the shelves with best sellers.

MillerQueen - I must admit, I never figured out how such a small town manages to support 4 separate butchers.

Stella - I noticed in France back in the summer that the supermarkets there didn't supply anyone with free bags either.

Also, in the last month or so, Tesco have started giving extra "green" clubcard points if you reuse your carriers.

I guess there's a general move in the right direction

Binty McShae said...

There is very much a frivolous money oriented thing going on over here, and that extends to carrier bags. I see people buying one chocolate bar and demanding a carrier bag to put it into - no joke! It's a mentality here that "it's part of the service, so I'll take it - whether I need it or not".

It always surprises people when I tell them that I don't need a bag, thankyou - I'll just pop whatever I bought into the bag I'm already carrying.

fatmammycat said...

You get paper bags here in Ireland. You have to pay 15 cents for a plastic one and in the super markets everyone brings their own green canvas bags. Rather cut back on the amount of litter too I have to say.

Anonymous said...

Very amusing post! I hate the way that supermarkets encourage you to take as many bags as you want! Just say no|!

SheBah said...

Very funny post, Kim, (perhaps you should think about submitting this one) - but it reminds me why I could never go back to village life! Trivial things balloon out of proportion.

SafeTinspector said...

Dammit, this is IMPORTANT! People just don't understands.

Kim Ayres said...

Binty - yes, I've had that too, where people look at you strangely for not taking a bag.

FMC - paying would definitely make a difference.

Birdwatcher - welcome to my ramblings, and thank you for taking the time to comment!

Shebah - city life would do my head in completely, but I understand why you think the eay you do.

SafeTinspector - ABSOLUTELY!

Attila The Mom said...

Ahhh, this post is a definite keeper! Brilliant!

Kate said...

Great post!

The same kind of rivalry happens here. The man who runs our local post office is always very curt with me because he once saw (and commented on) me buying bread from a rival shop - it was 10p cheaper what did he expect LOL

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