Plastics, profits, and the privatization of problems


My mother was born in London in 1932. As a child, she lived through the war and the later rationing and shortages. In our house, NOTHING was ever thrown away that could possibly be reused and NOTHING was ever thrown anywhere but in the garbage bin, or waste paper basket.

At school, we were taught the same habits. Any scrap of paper carelessly discarded would result in immediate detention and a severe lecture from the prefect or teacher who caught you littering the school grounds.

My school friends, many of whom came from poor homes, were brought up with exactly the same standards as I was. Their parents did not carelessly throw away useful items and the small homes were never littered.

I have continued these practices all my life. No plastic bag has ever been thrown away unless it contained raw meat juices, or some cleaning items had spilled in the bag on the way home from the supermarket (which has happened more than once). All bags are folded and placed in a drawer for future use – either for storage (which is impossible now unless you want a rat’s nest of biodegradable plastic in the cupboard), or as small bags to pack lunches for work and larger bags as liners in the garbage bin, or waste paper baskets.

The policy of charging for plastic bags will not reduce my usage of bags since I still need bags to dispose of the garbage as sanitation workers cannot pick up raw waste with their hands.

Only now I have to pay for the supermarket’s promotional reusable bags (how many times will the laminated paper be re-used before breaking up?) as well as for biodegradable bags for the garbage. Additionally, I will have to find time and energy to wash out the reusable bags to prevent contamination of the food transported in it.

Before plastic bags arrived, groceries were packed in large paper bags and items too heavy for the paper bags were placed in cardboard boxes in which goods had been delivered to the supermarket. Then it was decided that plastics were more convenient and provided a safer and healthier option for packaging food and separating it from other items which could cause contamination, resulting in illness.

I have asked the supermarket if they do not want us using plastic carrier bags to reuse the cardboard boxes for customers’ convenience as they once did. They have refused – which shows that they are not concerned with saving bags, but only with profit.

Supermarket packers carefully separated food items, cleaners, poisons, keeping fresh meats, cooked meats and dairy items such as cheese apart by tying them in small plastic bags before placing them in the carrier bag to prevent cross-contamination.

Now everything goes higgledy-piggledy into one reusable bag. I hope the health authorities will warn the offending supermarkets that bleach and other cleaners should not be placed unprotected into bags alongside food. Even more important pesticides, weed-killers, and other poisons, which are now available at some supermarkets MUST be kept separate and should NEVER be placed in a reusable bag since any residue in the bag which is not carefully washed out may cause harm when food is placed in the same bag at a later date.

Fresh meats leak liquid into the covered plastic trays and this raw meat juice, if it comes into contact with other food, can cause very dangerous e-coli infections.

The pre-cooked hot foods which are available at some supermarkets likewise leak juices into the covering, evidenced by the sticky feel on your hands when you pick them up. These also should not be placed unprotected into reusable bags to prevent possible contamination of meat or dairy items stored in the bag on a later occasion.

Supermarket packers were taught the correct grouping of items and protective practices to help their customers avoid illness. Many customers were not aware of the relevant food safety requirements and the care which the supermarkets took to protect their health.

We have grown up with plastics and take for granted its benefits. Now, all of a sudden, plastics are the latest enemy to be blamed for the careless laziness and dirty habits of a younger generation who were allowed to litter their environment without consequences.

Because they failed to deal with the behavioural problems of several generations of youth, whom they gleefully handed over to the ZR culture for training, our governments have now abdicated their role in national development and are following the American Republican model of privatizing problems. Allowing the private sector to make more money off the customer, pretending that this is a solution to the litter problem is a cop out by the Government as it does nothing about plastic bottles, food containers, plastic food wraps and boxes which contaminate our environment.

Privatizing the plastic problem and turning it into a profit for businesses is a direct consequence of privatizing the transport problem 20 years ago. Letting loose the profit motive does not solve the root cause, it simply results in more problems. In this case, it could mean a serious threat to our health if persons are not trained in proper food safety techniques when packing their food items in the reusable bags.

There needs to be a sustained programme, starting in schools, to teach the throwaway generations some respect for the environment, proper disposal of garbage, conservation and re-use of items, including expensive electronics and batteries which they discard without thought. The plastic bag is not the problem, it is the people who throw them away who cause the damage. Deal with them, don’t just pass the cost onto others.

Persons using reusable bags need to learn proper food safety handling techniques to protect their health and the Government needs to accept responsibility for development and not simply hand everything over to the profit-motive to solve. The consequences of the ZR culture are a good example of what happens when you do.

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