Thursday, July 05, 2007

Plastic Bags are from Hell

Honestly, plastic bags have got to be the scumiest scum of the earth. They block drains, plug rivers, hang in trees, blow across the plains and, (this one was new to me,) they poison the earth! There are so many of them ground down into the layers of soil here in Africa that they are actually souring the beautiful earth and inhibiting the ground from bringing forth to her fullest potential.

I first moved to East Africa in 1984 and most everything we bought came in a tin or was wrapped in paper. Very few items were wrapped in plastic. Many things you simply carried in your own basket. Like fruit and vegetables. We carried baskets to the market for those.

The good thing about tins is that they were used over and over. Re-cylced, they were. A tin of margarine or tomato paste, when emptied, was made into a little oil burning lamp for someone's house. The paper was burned, or it biodegraded into the earth.

It wasn't perfect. But it seemed manageable.

Slowly by slowly, as my Kenyan friends say, the slippery plastic bag grew in popularity and power.

Now, 23 years later, I find East Africa covered in the slimy things. It's really GROSS!

"No, no, no!" The governments of East Africa are saying "NO!" They have decided that these plastic bags are ruining the land at many levels and they are actually legislating against them. I'm happy about it, though I wonder to myself how they will enforce it. Like getting the cafes in southern Europe to enforce the no smoking in public places rule. Good luck!

I guess they can move toward the closure of factories that make them. I don't know about how all that works and I do hope that families don't get run out of business by it. But I am rejoicing in the idea of baskets, jute and cloth bags enjoying a resurgance of chic.

On a positive note: There are cottage industries in Africa and India that harvest plastic bag litter and fashion them into lovely articles that sell for a helpful profit. We have even been looking at what we could do with them in an income generating project here though if they are going to get scarce it may not be viable.

True confession--Even in my righteous indignation I am a regular forgetter of my basket when I go to the shops :-( Grrrr! I'm trying to be better.


Rachel said...

Lisa, I am with you on this, forgetfulness and all! I've been increasingly more disgusted by the ubiquitous presence of these bags, and not only that, the way American cashiers are trained to put only ONE OR TWO ITEMS in bags, and to DOUBLE BAG things unnecessarily. It's ridiculous.

I recently acquired a few hand-me-down canvas bags for groceries to try and do my part (at least to keep the bags from accumulating in my kitchen cabinet), but I still forget them almost 70 percent of the time I go to the store. I'll remember when I'm standing in the checkout line watching cashiers double-bag someone else's small container of laundry detergent.

Any suggestions on reminder strategies so as not to forget the canvas bags are most welcome. : )

lisa said...

Rachel, I have a theory that says that if I put the canvas bags bag into the car after I empty the foodstuffs into the kitchen, I'll always be prepared. Just like a Boy Scout :-) But that would take organization and thinking ahead, as opposed to flying by the seat of my pants/trousers :-(

Sue said...

I, too, prefer to fly by the seat of my pants. Thanks for the reminder of what is truly happening with our "convenient, want it now, don't care where it ends up" lifestyle. Walking out right now to put my TJ bags in the car!!

Rachel said...

Lisa - Here's the ridiculous thing: Sometimes I forget them even when they're already IN the car! In those unfortunate moments, I don't remember until all my groceries are on the belt and I'm getting ready to pay. So so sad.

Perhaps after admitting this publicly, I will finally start to remember. : )

Anonymous said...

a small ray of hope - even parts of the US are starting to move towards ending the plastic bag dominance!

what bothers me here is that when I go to the fruit market, there isn't even an option - they plastic bag the stuff just to weigh it, even before it can make it to my granny cart. grrrr. at least there is good recycling near by!

April (sorry, can't remember my password again!)

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa!
Just a little note to say I'm so glad things are going well (apart from the plastic bags!) I've been praying for you as you've all been journeying back to Africa to recreate home there...maybe we'll meet in Arusha one day! God bless, Love jo wells

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa

I am associated with 24-7 and have been following your blog and family adventures for a while. I was thinking an interesting micro enterprise might be to produce cloth shopping bags-- with maybe interesting slogans about stopping their use around the world. Just a thought as I know I would buy one.
Anyway, thanks for giving an interesting perspective on the whole plastic bag thing-- there's quite a move on here in Canada to get rid of them! Hope we get to hear from you in Spain in October.

Helen said...

So with you on the carrier bag thing. I try to always have a cloth bag in my handbag and whip it out when they ask me if I want a bag. If i forget, I'm generally seen staggering out of the shop with more things than I can really carry, or grumbling at myself for forgetting it, new plastic horror in my hand.
I think they should charge for them here in the UK like they do in some countries. Make people think twice.
Also, I work in a theatre where we give bags if peoplebuy merchandise. I always prhase the question "Do you NEED a bag?" rather than "Do you WANT a bag?". WOrks surprisingly often.

lisa said...

Hello Jo, Crys and Helen. Love that we have this global 24-7 connection :-) And hello to you, Abril!


Rebecca said...

I keep carrier bags in the trunk of my car - all the time....for the trips to the grocery store. I find that if I keep them in the house then I forget to use them and then have to use those terrible plastic bags from teh shops. So I am my advanced age and after years of not being aware or caring really what I did or did not do to protect the earth. Now I just have to work on those water bottles. It is such a habit.....when I went to the Sudan recently, the children would run up to the plane and want our plastic water was a great treasure to them, too bad.......

lisa said...

Rebecca, I'm a little stumped by plastic bottles as well. It does help that we use a Katadyn filter to purify our tap water so we're not buying water in bottles all the time. That cuts down plastic bottle waste at our house.

I'm trying to encourage groups that visit (and our family as well) to carry one of their own water bottles (like you buy at an sport's shop) instead of buying little bottles everywhere.

It's really difficult to dispose of anything plastic here in Africa as we are not aware of any place in Arusha where we can take it for recycling :-(

Anonymous said...


Not sure how I stumbled across your blog...think it's called avoiding work and the internet being way more appealing!! :)

I enjoyed what you wrote about the plastic bags. You mentioned something about using plastic bags to fashion them into articles that can be sold. When I was in Capetown a couple of years ago, one of the churches there began an initiative like this to run in the townships as a way of providing a means for African women to generate income. They made handbags, purses, hats...and it all looked really cool! It would be a fun project to start and would definitely provide a solution for the zillion wasted plastic bags here in Arusha!!


Whitney said...

I have a video on my blog about wasting plastic bags. It's crazy how people just keep using and wasting them...BUT, it IS possible to stop people from smocking in public places! =) Italy has had that law enforced for 2 years and everyone has to smoke outside now. If the police catches you smocking inside you're in trouble. I wonder if Italy is the only country in Europe...hmmm that would be a first =P

Carolyn said...

You know, Lisa, this is so old now, I don't know if you would still like ideas, but here in the States, there is a little coffee house where someone takes the bags & weaves them into bicycle baskets they put in front of the handlebars....I can get a pic if you like.

Yanikas said...