Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

How plastic bags don't measure up when it comes to value for money

We're getting used to the 5p bag tax. But have plastic bags got smaller?
We're getting used to the 5p bag tax. But have plastic bags got smaller?
Taxing times: Alex Attwood
Taxing times: Alex Attwood

I'm just getting out of my car in the underground park in a local shopping centre when I notice another woman bowling towards me at considerable speed.

She's hard to miss. She's travelling at an impressive rate of knots, her face almost fuchsia with fury.

She looks crosser than Ken Clarke at a Ukip fundraiser.

For a minute I think she's homing in on me. But no. She veers right to a car just a couple down from mine.

Fumbling for her keys, she unlocks her vehicle, retrieves something from the passenger seat and then slams the door shut with a ferocity that is surely reverberating in homewares and bedding a couple of floors above us.

She locks her car again and stomps back the way she came, a snarling portrait of rage, frustration and, I sense, a certain up-yours-Alex-Attwood angst.

Ahhhh. The 5p bag tax. How have you been getting used to it?

Like the woman in the car park my biggest problem has been remembering to take the bags with me.

To the point where my collection of bags-for-life probably now outweighs what the insurance people would call my assumed remaining lifespan. I am spending more on bags than Victoria Beckham. Except mine are just not as spacious as hers.

This is the major thing that's struck me about post-bag levy bags.

Is it just me, or have supermarket bags got smaller?

They're better quality, I'll give the shops that. But you can't get as much into them.

And when you do try to force stuff in – always a temptation when you feel guilty about single-handedly destroying the universe with superfluous polythene – the handles stretch alarmingly under the weight.

Have bags-for-life also got smaller? Again maybe this is just me, but the bigger 10p bags also seem to have gone down a notch sizewise.

Meanwhile away from the supermarkets, elsewhere on the High Street, bag size seems to be entirely, utterly random. Buy something tiny (even if expensive) and your 5p bag is of similarly dainty proportion.

Buy something large (although not necessarily expensive) and your still-5p bag can be several times the size of the former.

Shouldn't there be some sort of standard sizing so that you might feel you're getting your money's worth in carrier capacity?

Or at least will be able to use the thing again. A bag the size of an iPhone doesn't offer a whole lot of re-use potential.

That said I do think the levy has been a bit of an eye-opener (for me anyway) in terms of waste.

Shortly after it was introduced I went into a shop to buy a present for a child.

The shop's 5p bag was a paper one, sturdy and quite attractive. But it was emblazoned with the shop's name. So not exactly gift wrap.

A couple of doors down I was able to buy a gift bag for the present.

This was of similar construction to the shop bag. Just a bit more patterned. But really not all that different at all.

Three quid it cost me.

Even I got the insanity of that.

Especially when the girl behind the counter asked if I required a 5p bag to put it in...

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