“Paper or Plastic?” When Visiting Barbados, Bring Your Canvas Tote

“Paper or Plastic?” When Visiting Barbados, Bring Your Canvas Tote

“Paper or plastic?” is not a question asked in Barbados.  Here, it’s all plastic, all the time.

Never have I seen people more fond of plastic bags than Bajans. I go to Big B grocery store and I watch as small items are slipped into small polythene bags and then put into larger polythene bags which then are often double-layered for extra strength. After I get home and unpack, I’m shocked by the gigantic wad of bags I’ve amassed.  They go into a cupboard.  I’ve lived here a year.  There are enough plastic bags in that cupboard to stuff a mattress.

When I remember to take my canvas tote and ask the bagger to please use it, he/she looks at me like I’m from Mars. Well, I am, in a way: I’m from San Francisco.  Where plastic bags have been banned.


Why are plastic bags being banned and taxed all over the globe? Because plastic bags:

  • Are made of oil
  • Take hundreds of years (500?) to decompose
  • Clog drains, providing breeding grounds for malaria and dengue fever
  • Are confused for jelly fish by sea turtles and eaten, often causing death
  • Kill birds, whales, seals and other animals who ingest the bags then die from intestinal blockages
  • Litter streets, beaches, and oceans; it’s claimed that they are the most-common debris seen by sailors at sea

Action is being taken, however. Carry a plastic bag in Delhi, India’s capital city, and you could be imprisoned for five years. Use one in Ireland and pay a tax (15 euro cents per bag).

Delhi’s 10-million-a-day plastic bag habit has been squelched.  Ireland’s tax reduced bags by 90% in six months. (The money raised from the tax is used to fund environmental initiatives.)  It’s estimated that if each Australian family used one less plastic shopping bag each week, Australians would save 253 million plastic bags a year.

Delhi’s habit took hold as its economy boomed and western-style shopping malls sprang up. Is this the issue in Barbados as well?  Are plastic bags a (damned tacky) symbol of advancement?

My Facebook pal David thinks so;  he says the bags “symbolized the getting-away from village shops as food source
to the shiny new American-style supermarkets with greater choice and better service.  [The appeal of plastic bags is that they] were light, convenient, and had built-in handles. They were NEW and very cool.”

The plastic bag addiction runs rampant on this island.  David claims to have witnessed the double-bagging of toilet tissue, which, of course, is already encased in its own plastic wrapper.  He also told me that when PriceSmart (our equivalent of Costco) proposed bagging plastic bags and using leftover cardboard boxes instead, people were up in arms. (I was in PriceSmart the other day and it appears that cardboard boxes are being used.)  Will Bajans go kicking and screaming into the eco-future, as Mr Hunt claims?

I hope not.  Really, if countries such as Rwanda, Bhutan and Bangladesh can give ’em up cold turkey, we ought to be able to, too.  Haven’t Bajans heard that the new symbol of advancement is to not use the old symbols of advancement?  With the economy down, we put our Rolex away because we’ve got “bling shame.”  We drive a Prius instead of a Mercedes.

Of course, not everyone believes there’s a problem at all with plastic bags.  Save the Plastic Bag says the photos of animals with the bags might be doctored.  They say it’s not necessarily true that the bags are impervious to natural decay.

They say it’s not really known how long it will take for one to decompose.

They say paper bags are no better.  They say they’ve found weapons of mass destruction.  They say there’s no such thing as global warming … Oops, wrong groups there.  We’re on plastic bags here.  Think plastic bags.

Save the Plastic Bag (imagine wearing a badge that says that) encourages recycling of the bags – which is not an answer, only a detour in the life of a ridiculously long-lived, oil-based product that doesn’t even hold the groceries upright anyway.

Please, Barbados, bag the bags.  Visitors to our island, please bring your canvas tote and show us how it’s done.

They say that cockroaches will inherit the earth.  Right now it looks like they’ll have plenty of plastic bags to keep them company.

18 Responses to ““Paper or Plastic?” When Visiting Barbados, Bring Your Canvas Tote”

  1. Stephen says:

    I’m in agreement with you on this one, except San Fran is more like Jupiter.
    I use my Pricemart reusable bags in Supercentre and the staff are quite used to it now.
    However, if you leave a Supercentre bag outside, it’ll degrade in about two months. I kept some sand& stones in a few and now there’s nothing but sand!
    Barbados needs to get up to date with recylcing paper, card, bottles of all sizes and shapes etc, not just those from the BBC.

  2. Stephen says:

    PS No I won’t ‘tweet’ your post or facebook it or myspace it; they’ll all just recycling for the internet; totally a waste of time, effort and energy.

  3. planetbarbados says:

    Hear hear, Stephen! Thanks for this. My husband suggested we get the PriceSmart reusable bags; I say we go a step farther and just use an old canvas tote we have anyway. Whichever … doesn’t matter. Using something other than the polythene bags is the point.

    And yet. I wrote this post today and tonight ran down to the convenience store for a few things … and forgot my canvas tote! Bad me. I learned the high art of recycling in California, which is a good thing to do if you don’t want to be ostracized from society there, and I can learn to carry my tote as well, dammit.

    Re your PS, Stephen: You’re showing your age, you know that, don’t you? I know because I’m likely the same age … and neither do I understand Twitter. Not at all. But I live in hope that someday a 14-year-old will explain it to me in a way I understand.

  4. Greg says:

    Your eloquence in this post is a joy to read. We can do this, as a country, as a people, if we choose to. It just takes a few to spark it….

  5. jdid says:

    Last time I was there I think a cashier double bagged some trivial item for me and I was absolutely stunned. I had totally forgotten about the whole shopping bag dependency.

  6. planetbarbados says:

    Greg, thank you. I like your optimistic belief that it takes just a few to spark an no-more-plastic-bags movement.

    I myself believe it will ultimately take government intervention. Remember when seat belt use was voluntary? Too few did it to make a difference; it look an enforced law for widespread compliance to occur.

    Still, I’ll do my part; I need to make a habit of taking my tote every time, whether I’m running an errand on foot or by car.

    jdid, thanks for your comment. “Dependency” – yep, that’s it. Great word.

  7. Stephen says:

    Unfortunately I do understand twiiter/facebook/myspace and I might just be over twelve! However, don’t they just add an unncessary waste of your life when you could be sitting in your hamock watching the sun go down? I do get more hits on my website when people tweet about it, but I just don’t like it. Okay I’m 99 and getting grouchy.

  8. planetbarbados says:

    In a hammock watching the sun go down? Yes, that does sound like a sublime way to spend time. Even people who Tweet would love to do that! It’s so great that we have this option here in Barbados.

  9. edie says:

    Thanks Jane for the reminder. I am so used to using my canvas totes at home but never thought to pack them with the swim suit. New item to put on the packing list for next year. We are so excited that we have booked for next year so its not so hard to say goodbye to the Rock.

  10. Juliana says:

    Jane!!! I just discovered your blog… I am enjoying it soooo much! With this post you have the one things that distresses me to no end when I’m at home in Bim! The total lack of environmental awareness… I went to Brydens to buy a pen… one little pen, and the cashier wanted to put it in a bag and tape it. I said no thanks! The last time we were there, my hubby and I were saying that someone needs to start a business to get the supermarkets to sell their own branded reusable bags… it’s good to hear that Price Mart is making that effort.

    I agree with Greg. Barbadians can change if they choose to… it starts with educating the masses… I honestly believe that most people are simply ignorant of the impact of their actions on the environment, and not just in Barbados. Government needs to take the initiative and business owners too. Anyway I could go on and on about this…. this topic just URKS ME!!!

    so how are you Jane 🙂 I’ve gotta email you and touch base!


  11. planetbarbados says:

    Thank you, Juliana from GreatBarbados … 🙂

    Let me ask you … Did you have the same environmental consciousness before you left your home country of Barbados and moved elsewhere?

    Environmental consciousness is learned in school and through government programs, private industry initiatives, and friends who know about it. I started recycling in earnest only after my daughters, learning about the importance of it in school, started bugging me to do it.

    What such programs are in effect in Barbados? I don’t know, but I suspect few to none. If there were, Bajans would be as offended as we are in the States or Canada or England by plastic bag profligacy.

  12. planetbarbados says:

    Edie, thanks for writing. Makes me feel great that someone I’ve rented a place to here at St Lawrence Beach Condos has contributed. I look forward to seeing you here again next year! Have a good year and – when you get chilly up there in the north – think of the warmth of beautiful Barbados! Don’t forget your tote ….

  13. Juliana says:

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Jane… I’m not that there really are any programs in Barbados on environmental awareness. Growing up in Barbados it was non-issue… and I only became aware after coming to Canada… starting with the simple household recycling programs. Recycling is so natural now that I feel guilty throwing a plastic bottle in the garbage in Barbados.

    Over the last couple years, government is becoming more strict by imposing fines for breaking recycling rules, and offering incentives to be more energy conscious… e.g. rebates on energy efficient goods, free disposal of less energy-efficient appliances, etc.

    Things really changed for me though after watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”… have you seen it? For me, it drove home the point that our individual choices can make a huge difference.

  14. planetbarbados says:

    I have not yet seen the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Juliana. Thanks for reminding me that I need to. We each can make a difference, you’re so right, but, as you point out, government needs help the effort as well. I, too, feel guilty tossing a plastic bottle, but where else in Barbados do I have to put it?

  15. Xing says:

    I’m all for using canvas or other reusable bags. And I am almost trained to remember to bring them with me.

    I am curious to know what others do with such products as meat. Even though wrapped up in the stores packaging I worry about putting it in my reusable bag and causing some contamination of e-coli or bacteria from the package surface onto the reusable bag.

  16. You’re a better soul than I, Xing. I’m all for buying new new totes for carting groceries and then forgetting them at home!

    Gosh, I never thought of the dread diseases one can contract … ! Now there’s a good argument from staying away from grocery stores (and kitchens) altogether and eating at restaurants 🙂

  17. […] “Paper or Plastic?” When Visiting Barbados, Bring Your Canvas Tote … However, if you leave a Supercentre bag outside, it'll degrade in about two months. I kept some sand& stones in a few and now there's nothing but sand! Barbados needs to get up to date with recylcing paper, card, bottles of all sizes . […]

  18. Thanks for writing; I didn’t realize the plastic bags used at Supercentre degrade like that; cool! I agree about recycling; some of us do it but it’s not a national movement the way it is in the States.

    xx Jane

Leave a Reply