By Lucie Robson
One of my colleagues in the UK told me she collected ephemera from around the world.
On digging deeper I found out she meant plastic bags provided by shops.
“Well, they’re going to disappear one day, aren’t they,” she said.
It is an almost incredible thought that, one day, decades into the future, your average plastic supermarket bag could be a collector’s item or, at least, an object of curiosity.
My colleague had been collecting her ephemera for years. It was just a coincidence she mentioned it to me in the autumn of 2015 when the 5 pence plastic shopping bag charge was introduced in England.
At the time, I couldn’t imagine in a million years the same thing happening in shopping bag-awash Cyprus where a cashier offers you a ‘sakoula’ for even a box of matches.
But, here we are, in July 2017, and the government has just announced that next year shoppers will be charged for plastic carriers.
The move is part of EU objectives aimed at reducing the presence of non-degradable plastic bags and their gradual destructive impact on ecosystems.
I, for one, already carry around a couple of cloth bags that fold up to nothing and fit comfortably in my handbag.
The cashiers at my supermarket know this and will always pause and ask me if I want a bag or not once they’ve rang through my items.
Anyway, you can always get a second use out of a plastic bag. The few that make their way into my place get re-used as bin liners.
More wackily, I remember in the UK, seeing people who had been caught without an umbrella in a sudden downpour making makeshift hats out of them.
Once, here in Cyprus, I saw a group of friends doing the same during a shower.
They were tearing and tying and stretching bags they’d commandeered from a shop, making entire waterproof outfits right down to their feet, before venturing into the rain.
I go to England fairly routinely, so have had first-hand experience of the transition to a ‘bag tax state’.
People were generally indignant at first being charged for something so flimsy, which they have probably already paid for in their grocery bill anyway.
But it caught on quickly. Within one year, plastic bag use was down by 85% and one major supermarket just announced trialling a ‘reusable bag only’ policy.
The cost of plastic bags in countries that have introduced the charge varies.
In England, it was a token charge to make a point (because nobody is going to get upset about paying 5 pence for something).
It was the underlying message of environmental damage that was brought home.
Neither, I suspect, will shoppers in Cyprus care about paying a few cents.
It is certainly not enough to make a point about dolphins choking on plastic in a country where few even use public transport.
In Cyprus, the bag charge will need to be as high as possible for shoppers to care less.