Tuesday, 5 August 2008


It's funny sometimes how you get back home and find yourself out of 'the buzz' - particularly, in the UK, if you speak English with an English accent but don't know what an Oyster card is on a bus or, even worse, try and poke a pound coin in the slot the tickets come out of.

These days I'm usually caught out on leave one way or the other, so being asked in a Marks and Spencer service station off the M4 if I wanted a 5p plastic bag, I naturally asked "And the alternative is?"

I got an amazed look, a glance to a colleague that said 'I've gorra right one here, Carol' and then the rather acid response to my question: "You have to carry the shopping yourself."

I elected to do so, as did the bloke in front of me: I picked up the crisps he'd dropped and handed them over to him as he left the till clutching at his armful of food.

Walking away from the shop with my Dr Seuss-like pile of of sandwiches (a little old lady kindly picked up the smoothie I'd dropped on the way and gave it back), I found myself irritated. Why 5p for a bag? If I want to give 5p to an environmental charity, I will. But I couldn't believe that the compliant Brits were willing to walk away with tottering armfulls of food because some wee fascist retailer has suddenly decided to charge for bags 'to help the environment'.

What really got me going was the obvious greenwash here. M&S gives 1.85p of the 5p, 'the profit' according to the company, to Groundworks, an environmental charity it supports. The remainder, 3.15p, presumably goes to Marks and Sparks to pay for the bag, the administration and associated costs. So Marksies get to save the costs of the 394 million plastic food bags it hands out every year - now we pay for them. And it gets a nice slice of greenwash uncritical media coverage. And we get inconvenienced but all keep quiet about it because we're, well, just terriblhy British.

More fool us.

I think it's crap that M&S has got us to pay for its bags and dressed it up as a 'green' initiative. If it really gave a hoot, it'd match the donation the hapless consumer is being forced to make - in M&S' name.

Sarah, of course, thinks that I'm a total twit for getting worked up about this...

BTW - I forgot to do the maths on this. At 3.15p per bag, M&S is set to save £12.4 million a year out of this greenwash.


moryarti said...

I had a long painful argument once in the office on the same topic with the exact same arguments (yours) - i was having a go at Geant.

They also thoguht I was a twit as well..

Mars said...

Doesn't Geant charge fils for bags too? I think it's happening everywhere...

Anonymous said...

It's a good idea gone wrong (As usual).Rather than matching the amount that the customer pays as Alex suggested, M&S should simply fork out the rest. They will still have reduced their outgoings as people reuse old bags or switch to using 'bags for life' which isn't that hard once you get used to leaving them in the boot of the car for the weekly shop.

Ammouni said...

Alex- i was firstly surprised to see you refer to the UK as 'back home' but when i read your argument i realised you still belong here...Ya Arab yalla come back.

Anonymous said...

I can testify it's happening in Italy and France as well. Only a few chains are a tad more honest and don't attempt to greenwash it.

However, there's an even newer twist where they charge one full euro for a sturdier bag you're supposed to use over and over, and when it breaks down, they'll replace it for free.

the real nick said...

No, you are a twit for buying food at Marks & Sparks.

Although, do they still do the chocolate mousse with orange bits?

i*maginate said...

I don't really get your point. Local supermarkets here are doing the same thing, innit.

M&S was once in trouble, which is why any rev-making opp. isn't looked down upon by the gen. public, as long as it isn't a great inconvenience. That's my take.

Jayne said...

We have to pay for plastic shopping bags from most of the supermarket chains in Souf Efrica & have done for a coupla years now - as alec says, you just have to remember to leave some in the boot of your car! I think retailers in the UAE are obscenely generous with their bags - they put small bags inside bigger bags & only half fill the bigger ones.

Nick - in SA we have Woolworths, which is Marks & Spencers but trades under the Woolies name, for whatever reason (as it has no relation to the UK Woolies). It's the only shop where we can buy pork pies & crumpets!

Grumpy Goat said...

The environmental fashion statement, er, message seems to be getting through even here in the Lands of the Sand.

"No thanks, I don't need a bag." now gets a "Righty-ho, sir" (or its equivalent). Not long ago, asking not to have a plastic bag would get the same sort of reaction at the checkout as growing antennae on your extra head.

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