Plastic bags …

July 3rd, 2016 Sections: Life In Kyrgyzstan, News, Society

Debates-PoliticosIt probably won’t come as a surprise to people who know me but, back in my youth, when I was a student, I was a member of the college Debating Society.  I wasn’t that I was any good at it … I was more of a spectator than a participant, but I did enjoy the debates … and it got me thinking about topics that, perhaps I wouldn’t have thought much about if it hadn’t been for the debates.

When I left college, however, there wasn’t really much opportunity to continue my interest.  As a teacher, I occasionally found myself in the cut and thrust of argument as and when we organized class debates … but they were just occasional events.  It wasn’t like sport … having left college, there were Rugby Clubs up and down the country that I could have joined … but there were precious few Debating Clubs.

As it happened, when I moved to London, I discovered that there was a Debate Club in Enfield, (the London Borough where I lived), and I did go along a few times.

There was one debate when the motion under consideration was about the pernicious evils of marketing … and I prepared a few comments for a speech from the floor about that I resented being used as a ‘walking advertisement’ by the large supermarkets who provided me with plastic bags to carry my purchases home … emblazoned with the company logo.

It wasn’t that I was embarrassed that people could see that I had been shopping at Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s or Waitrose – each chain of supermarkets having its own niche in the market … and your plastic bag, your choice of supermarket said something about you … it was a status symbol.

I am sure that a Harrods plastic bag would have carried considerable cachet in some social circles, marking me out as ‘one of us’ … whereas a Tesco’s might well have been looked down upon.  In other circles … it would have been the other way around … the Tesco’s bag would have shown that I was an ordinary, regular sort of person … but the Harrods bag would have marked me out as a pretentious snob.

The thing I really resented, however, was the fact that supermarkets had recently stopped giving out plastic bags ‘free of charge’ … and customers now had to pay for them.  It itself, that’s not a problem … I want, or need, the bag – so it seems reasonable that I should pay for it … but in that case, I argued, they should provide me with a different sort of bag … without the blatant advertising copy.  If they want to use someone as a model in a photograph in an advert – they pay them … why not pay me (in the form of a free plastic bag) if I am going to a walking advertisement for them.

Needless to say … the argument didn’t go down too well … it was, after all, a bit esoteric and a little off topic … and the speaker, (if I remembers correctly, – an executive from an advertising agency), was a very good speaker and made made a very convincing case that marketing was not really pernicious evil … with malevolent and insidious motives … but was really all about giving people information … for example – about products, goods and services … that people may not even be aware that they needed …  and he carried the day.


The question of the use of plastic bags has been a moot point in the West for many years – it was certainly a a canpaign issue in Britain befoore I left to come here in 1995.

Every day, millions of them are issued … either given away free, or sold, by retail outlets  … as a result we each hundreds of them every year.  Most are used for a very short time – single use for something like just 25 minutes … and then tossed away  with gay abandon.  They may leave our lives and consciousness … but not from our world.  Like the Anthrax spores that I mentioned a few days ago, they lie around for years, decades, and it’s suggested centuries (although they haven’t been around for long enought for that to have been verified).

They can often be seen floating in the wind, and the rivers and oceans.

International Plastic Bag Free Day gives us an opportunity to focus on this … and the implications for our environment, our worl … for ourselves and the generations to come.


When I first came to Bishkek, twenty one years ago, there were lots of plastic bags … given away in supermarkets, bazaars and all sorts of outlets … white and or yellow, with a picture of a parrott and red lettering … advertising a pet shop in Glasgow.

And it was a real pet shop … I must admit that IU used to wonder … that had apparently placed an order … and found found that ithad been filled over and over again … with the surplus bags being sold on the open market … many of them ending up in the bazaars and shops of Central Asia.

After a few years the owner of the pet shop started to get youthful visitors, many of whom had been trekking through Central Asia … and who, like me, were intrigued about the Glasgow pet shop that was carried throughout Central Asia … that was probably the best known (advertized) pet shop (or any shop for that matter) in the World … and all of it ‘free advertising’.

It’s a fascinating story – you can rad about it in this article from 2000 in the Wall Street Journal.


Back in February, (this year – 2016), the Jogorku Kenesh, (the Parliament), voted down a proposed bill that would hace prohibited the import, production and sale of plastic bags and synthetic fishing nets.

The author of the Bill is no longer a Deputy which may a reason as to why the Bill failed … although another contender might have been the severity of punishments proposed for infringements … fines in the first instance but for repeated or large scale infringements  could have involved imprisonment for a period of between 3 to 5 yeasrs  as well as confiscation of property, and even more severe in the case where the perpetrator was an official of some kind.

Of course, it could also simply be a case that the deputies were not convinced of the merits of the case  …

Back in Britain, they’ve chosen a slightly different way to address the problem … rather than ban plastic bags … instead they chose to make people pay.  A charge was imposed for every single use plastic carrier bag handed out to customers … if people pay for something … they tend to value it.


Also, back in February, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty posted the following video report … about 13-year-old Aichurek Sulaimanova from Bishkek – the sole breadwinner for her family, she collects plastic bags after school to provide for her disabled mother and younger brother.


This video by Aida Sulova was part of an arts project, Once upon a plastic bag, (as a personal anti plastic bag campaign), which, with a selection of photographs formed the basis of an exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts back in 2012.






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