Monday, 1 August 2011

Reduce Those Ones, Not These Ones

Imagine you're somebody who works at a supermarket check-out. Especially over the last ~15 years, even more especially over the last ~five years. There exists the type of customer who wishes to reduce the number of plastic bags their shopping goes home in. Within this type, there are two sub-types -
1. the simple reducer, who might say "Please just put these four items all in one bag" or "I don't need a bag for this loaf of bread, thanks."
2. the re-usable bag presenter who says "Here are my bags, please use them. Excuse me! I said I have bags!" or simply piles their four or five assorted bags in front of their groceries.
Certainly both of these sub-types are driven by the same supermarket-eco-warrior ethos -  'stop giving me these fucking useless plastic bags!' With sub-type (1) it makes sense for the check-out operator to adopt a policy of 'cram as much stuff as you can into one bag.' Which I will now refer to as the 'reduce policy.' So far, all is well. Unfortunately there seems to be a common occurrence of checkout operators who fail to see the difference between these sub-types and apply the 'But you want to use less bags!!' logic to everyone who refuses a separate plastic bag for every item bought. My whole adult (read, independently shopping for myself) life I have been one of these annoying customers, bring an assortment of oddly shaped bags to the supermarket, and 10 years ago, I was willing to accept the confusion and failure to adapt to customer behaviour that caused deviations from the general supermarket bagging code (which I have always assumed to be something like "if it might be pet food, it gets its own bag; if it might weigh more than 200g, it gets its own bag; if it is toilet paper or bread, it gets its own bag; if you probably shouldn't eat it, it gets its own bag). For a long time I have noticed a trend where a lot of checkout operators seem to apply the reduce policy to sub-type (2) customers. What happens in these instances is that the customer produces three re-usable bags, allowing plenty of space for a moderate amount of groceries, only to have every item jiggled, squashed and tetrised into one bag; the other bags left to sit there, looking stupid on the collection end of the checkout. For a long time I tried to ignore the feeling that there was a pattern to this, but it has become impossible to do this. It is quite clear to me that the relatively recent shift towards retailers taking a more ethical approach to plastic bags has forced supermarkets to change their bagging policies in an attempt to show that they care about fulfilling the needs of concerned consumers. Unfortunately, this has probably made the false application of the reduce policy even more common.

This makes me mad. Not so much because I am continually astounded that still! today! I often have to re-iterate multiple times that no, I really don't want that stupid bag, but because it is such a complete and utter failure in logic and common sense. Yes, people requesting less bags and people bringing their own bags both want to reduce plastic bag use; and yes, the second type may sometimes find themselves in the situation where they belong to type (1) due to being unexpectedly at the supermarket and buying an amount of items that is too many to carry without aid. BUT when a customer has brought sufficient bags to hold all their groceries in a way that keeps soft things from being squashed and allows for not having 15KG in liquids in one bag, they do not want the number of bags reduced to the bare minimum of re-usuable bags the groceries can possibly fit into.
So please, checkout operators, or maybe the people who train checkout operators, can you wrap your heads around this and stop fucking ignoring the fact that I have given you not one but two, three, even four bags to work with. Yes I want to reduce the usage of plastic bags, this does not equate to reducing the total number of bags I use to carry my groceries.


  1. haha! totes. worse is when you show up with two massive paniers (those saddle bag things for bicycles) and this happens. then you try to cycle home, but find you have to lean your body in a funny direction to compensate.

  2. ha! yes, that would be very bad. I normally have a backpack, but I have learned that the process goes much smoother if I have 'green bags' to hand over then load these into my backpack. But most of the time I have to use the ample benches/seating my supermarket kindly provides, to redistribute everything as one massively over-filled green bag simply does not fit into one backpack compartment.

  3. Haha, I can't stop laughing -quite possibly the funniest thing I've read in ages. I can completely relate to the customer type 2 scenario but also part of customer type 1's dilemma of bag-cramming... It gets really fun when that one green bag they've stuffed to the f-ng max breaks en route to the car.


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