Notes from Catherine Rowett, former Green Party MEP for East of England and deputy coordinator of the Eastern Region Green Party*(UK). Biographical reflections on life as an MEP. Longer reflections and discussions on issues relating to policy, the good life, justice, equality, anti-austerity economics and the future of the planet. This is also a forum for exchanging ideas on how to tread lightly on the planet and avoid supporting exploitation and corrupt practices. Here we go...

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Shopping Bags

You'll remember the fuss about a month ago, relating to the cotton bags that were promoted by Sainsbury's to try to persuade people not to use plastic bags. The fuss was about the fact that the bags were made using cheap labour in China, were not organic cotton, nor fairtrade, and had been shipped across the world to the UK. I've kind of had it in mind to say something about it for some time.

Besides the issue of whether it's really very green to buy a bag that was shipped across the world, I can't see that it's at all helpful to promote the feeling that we must always have the latest fashion image. Of course I can see perfectly well why Sainsbury's wanted to capture the news headlines, and boost its green credentials (it's all part of the marketing business, and that's always in direct conflict with green initiatives, because the idea of marketing is to get people to buy things they don't need and pay more than is necessary for them). But really we ought to get rid of this whole idea of "having things" in order to be seen to be fashionable (or to be seen to be "green").

How about a fashion for not having things?

That's what would be truly green (as long as it wasn't achieved by throwing away perfectly good things we already have).

Here are some of the bags that we use for shopping. The first is my favourite brown suede bag. I've had it for, maybe, ten years, and I could do with putting in a new thong to tie it up with because the current one is a bit tatty in places, but otherwise it's got many years of service left in it. I bought it second hand in a charity shop, but it evidently originally came from Warehouse, though it doesn't say where it was made.

The second picture shows two leather duffel bags hanging on the cloakroom door. There's a history to these bags. About 25 years ago I went to the craft market in All Saints Garden on Trinity Street and was much taken with a stall where the man was selling his hand-made leather duffel bags and other leather goods. I bought the blue duffel bag on that occasion and gave it to the professor (well, he wasn't a professor then) for his birthday. But he was not at all pleased because the bag was much too small for any useful quantity of shopping. So the next week I went back to the stall and asked the man to make a larger bag, a really large one for doing lots of shopping. The wonderful red duffel bag is what he came up with. I hope the man who made them is able to see this post, because he should be proud of the fact that these lovely handmade local products have been used ever since and are still going strong. In particular the red one is used several times a week for the most strenuous tasks that would quickly break the back of any plastic bag: 25 lbs of potatoes, 8 bottles of wine, 15 lbs of marmalade oranges, gardening equipment and all sorts. Being leather it is indestructible and always protects its contents from the rain and the knocks. And the leather thongs that serve as the carrying strap and the closure never get dirty: they just get polished with use. This really is a bag for life, though you'll perhaps be able to see in the picture the scuff marks that reflect its 25 years of service.
In the third picture is a little cotton bag that came free with a set of table cloth and napkins about ten years ago. I added this picture because this is a bag that folds up so small that it's neater than a plastic bag, as well as stronger, so if you need to take an extra bag besides the leather shopping bag, or take a shopping bag in your briefcase to work so as to do the shopping on the way home, this one is very handy. And it's washable too, so although it doesn't stay clean and grease free, the way the leather ones do, it's easy to restore it to its original condition.

And fourth there's the shopping basket. I used to use this a fair bit when we walked to the local shop to buy loose eggs in Oxford, but I don't really find it very helpful now since we don't have a grocer's shop in walking distance. But it does have an advantage for keeping things flat and not pressing on each other: good for taking a tin of baked goods to a cake sale and so on.

So here's my green tip for the day: don't go out and buy a gimmicky new bag. Find a well loved and well used one and use it again and again and again and again. Let's make it fashionable to have an old well worn bag, the older and more venerable the better!

No comments: