Thursday, August 6, 2009

Placcy Bag Country

When I first came to Bahrain in 1985 my girlfriend explained it should infact be called, 'Placcy Bag Country'. Every single item bought from a shop had to have at least one plastic bag put around it before it could leave the shop.

She explained they even had assistants whose sole job was to fill up plastic bags with your household items and then hand them to you. And quite often the formula was: number of items bought = number of plastic bags

How times haven't changed.

Today whilst attempting to buy two apples and a banana I had to fight off the shop assistants (note, not singular) who were desperate to put plastic bags (note, not singular) on my three pieces of fruit. It's almost like the light bulb joke, except this one goes, "How many cold store assistants does it take to put a plastic bag on a piece of fruit?"

Having finally heard my mumblings of, "no plastic bag",  "NO plastic bag",  "NO PLASTIC bag", "NO PLASTIC BAG", "NOOOOO PLAAAASSSSTIIIIIIC BAAAAAGGGGG", it turns out there is a follow-up question, "But Madam, why don't you want one?"


Here's a recent article from 2008 in which Gulf Weekly cronicles Bahrain's addiction to carrier bags:

BAHRAIN'S shoppers have blown the chance to go green by protesting about a leading store's plans to place a nominal charge of 20 fils ~that's half a cent US~ for its plastic carrier bags to encourage them to switch over to reusable jute bags, writes Anasuya Kesavan.

Customers were so outraged at the suggestion that management at Geant hypermarket in Sanabis was forced to abandon the environment-friendly initiative. Set to have been implemented this month, the company cowered to customer power and the risk to losing out to competitors.

It appears the majority of customers were simply not ready for change. Some of their comments were so explicit that they cannot be repeated in a family newspaper.

Management of one of Bahrain's leading hypermarkets has admitted it was baffled by the reaction of customers to plans to save the environment.

Many shoppers at Geant were furious when told of an initiative to sell plastic carriers for 20 fils to encourage them to use reusable jute bags being sold at cost price.

A similar scheme in Dubai was implemented without any furore and bosses hoped they would get the green light here too.

Geant Bahrain carried out a four-month long customer consultation in a bid to convince customers that the proposal was a positive measure to help save the planet for future generations.

Safi Faruqui, marketing manager, said: "Rather than getting any encouragement for the initiative we received several nasty comments.

"It's clear that most of our shoppers are not ready to change their habits and are especially not ready to pay for plastic bags.

"Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents would rather use free plastic bags of reduced quality. So we have decided to introduce thinner and lesser quality plastic bags and continue educating our customers through our various promotional campaigns.

"There is a major lack of awareness about the environmental damages caused by plastic bags in the kingdom.

"In Dubai, we were able to introduce the new scheme from day one," added Mr Faruqui. "Although in Bahrain we gave our customers four-months to get used to the idea and offered reusable jute bags of two sizes for just 500 fils and 800 fils, we don't think they are ready for it.

"These jute bags are a non-profit venture introduced by the company to genuinely work towards protecting the environment. We wanted to discourage the use of plastic bags.

"We did consider introducing bio-degradable plastics but they are far too expensive and ultimately the cost will only get passed on to the customer. We were also aware that everything will not fit in the jute bags and were happy to provide plastic bags for carrying large items."

The money raised from the sale of plastic bags would have been donated for environment projects through the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife.

Geant is not alone in its angst about plastic carriers. After spoiling shoppers with complimentary bags that at times equal the number of items purchased, supermarkets across the kingdom are now trying a variety of ways to educate their customers and work towards a 'plastic bags' free trolley.

Currently the number of plastic bags given away just by the kingdom's hypermarkets and supermarkets is staggering.

Annually, Jawad Business Group gives away 100 tonnes of plastic bags while Al Jazeera Supermarket requires six million bags of assorted sizes and Al Osra Supermarket distributes 1.3 million plastic bags.

Monthly statistics at Megamart reveals a mind blowing 22 tonnes of plastic bags while Geant Bahrain has a figure of seven tonnes and Lebanon Trade Centre needs four tonnes of plastic bags. Add to this the figures from the cold stores, fashion outlets and others and environmentalists fear the island could be sitting on an environmental time bomb.

Conventional plastic bags can take up to one thousand years to degrade, increasing landfill volume and contributing to the hazardous build-up of methane in landfill sites.

Astonishingly, despite many outlets offering jute and cloth bags for a small price -_and many having given them away free during promotions - only 2,000 cloth bags have been bought by customers of Al Jazeera Supermarket, 6,000 at Al Osra Supermarket and 8,000 at Geant.

The bottom line however, remains the reaction of customers. Harish Sewani, general manager, Lebanon Trade Centre, said that the biggest problem faced by the supermarket is the lack of awareness amongst shoppers who do not realise the problems created by plastic bags and the fact that they use on an average 20 to 30 bags for their monthly shopping.


Alia Almoayed said...

We're certainly not there yet, but we're sure getting closer. The switch from using plastic to cloth is very slow but it's happening. Like any major change, people need time. Recycling is now spreading, and so is environmental awareness. I believe that we're definitely not where we would like to be, but we are moving forward. That gives me hope and I look forward to being part of the change.

wgaw said...

Alia, good to hear from you - I've put a link to your blog on wgaw. Keep up the good work ... as you say, there's a long way to go.