Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Plastic Terror

Doña Berta's shopping bag

I know, it’s a world wide problem. But as with a lot of things, in Honduras it seems to be worse. It might be a nuisance in other places, but here it’s epidemic. It’s everywhere. It haunts me. There is no escape.

I’m talking about The Plastic Bag.

It’s not just the fact that with each and every purchase you get a plastic bag. You often get multiple bags! And there is no way refusing them! Apparently there’s this unwritten but sacred etiquette to the use of plastic bags. It must be something like this:

            -Any business shall hand out as many plastic bags to the customer as possible. Be stingy with anything, but with plastic bags.
-The customer shall receive as many plastic bags as he or she can, and preferably ask for more.
-If the purchased products are several, in stead of using one bag, try to put the different products in as many separate bags as possible.
-Do not ever put cleaning materials (albeit already wrapped in plastic) in the same bag with edible products (often also packed in plastic) in the unlikely case the food might take on the smell of the cleaning products on the short trip home.
-Do not pack food products meant for humans in the same back with product for animals. (Imagine a can of dog Chow and a can of condensed milk in the same bag! Gross!)
-At the market, even if the customer brings her own shopping bag, put every single vegetable or fruit in a separate bag before depositing it in the shopping bag.
-In case the customer needs immediate use of his/her purchase, the plastic back is immediately discarded outside the store. (And not in the garbage can, of course).
-Since plastic bags are so common and so abundant, there is no reason for reuse whatsoever.
-Plastic bags make great flying objects on the streets and therefore need not to be recycled.
-Plastic bags also add a nice fragrance to home-burned garbage, yet another reason not to be recycled.

I started my War against the Plastic Bag many years ago, and am still fighting it. It’s a lost, case, I know, but I won’t give up. While I was the director of an NGO, we had this rule that no plastic bags were allowed into the office. We had big shopping bags for everybody’s use and accepting a plastic bag was punished with a 5 Lempira fine. The first months after implying this rule there was quite bit of money in the kitty, but my colleagues eventually got used to the No Plastic Bag Policy. So it is possible…

Doña Berta, the owner of one of my favourite stores in the world (see a previous post on her store here) liked our policy too and it inspired her to have canvas shopping bags made for her regular customers. After all, as a shop owner, she’s sick and tired of having to pay for all those plastic bags!
It’s an honour to be an inspiration, so I carry Doña Berta’s bag proudly. It has more value to me than a Louis Vuitton bag, and probably holds more too.  Unfortunately, I’m the only one. I don’t know what it is, but people in town rather die than be seen with a shopping bag on the street…

The Plastic Bag Situation is bad enough as it is, but it is even worse if they are imposed on you. Even without accepting any plastic bags, I admit I have hundreds of them, with no clear clue of how they got into my possession! Really, there is no escape of the Plastic Bag… Not even here in the small town of Copán Ruinas, where everybody knows me. True, in a lot of stores the bag boy gets hissed at before he can trap my purchases: Stop! She doesn’t want a bag!!! But all too often I have to literally beg not to give me a bag.

Instead of asking whether you want a bag, the cashier starts shoving your stuff in a bag anyway. I usually say:
“I don’t want a bag.”
Nothing happens.
“I don’t want a bag!”
The bagging continues.
“I don’t want a bag!!!”

Nothing. So after I’ve paid and receiving several plastic bags, I start to unpack it all. That’s when the cashier finally wakes up from his or her preconditioned state of oblivion and looks at me like I’m the craziest person on earth.

Maybe I am.
But I still don't want that plastic bag.

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