You have to take these plastic bags

When three security guys challenged my attempt to shop plastic bag free

I finally arrived in Bali, and it is not the only place where you can find an outlet of the big French supermarket chain in Indonesia. Carrefour’s activities in the Indonesian market seem to aim beyond the tourist and expat community. Even in Bali the majority of customers you see in there are likely Indonesian people, part of the small but growing share of wealthy locals. So it has been uplifting to see some of the reusable bags that are for sale.

“Save the environment for a better tomorrow”

What is more, the bags are part of a program to keep their customer using them for a long time: “Once you bought one” they promise, “you will have one forever”. Because whenever it breaks you will get a new one for free.

“Buy once, for all times”

Now I want to tell you about yesterday’s shopping at Carrefour, and how my attempt to shop plastic bag free ended up by being surrounded by three security people. So I tried to enter the market with my backpack. I knew from this one and other places that they do not really like people to bring in their own bags, but this time mine was completely empty and I thought this may take away their concern. I wanted to take it with me, because otherwise, once you are done paying at the cashier, your backpack is far away from where you need it in order to bag your purchase. Anyways, they did not care, the backpack had to go to the information counter. Fine, I understand. Then I took one of the little baskets and started my shopping.

Once at the fruit corner, the place where plastic bags are still hardest for me to reject, I got three different kinds of fruits and went to weigh them. Without saying anything they guy weighed them separately, then put them into only one bag, putting three price tags for each category of fruits on this one plastic bag. You may think this is not special, but let me tell you, for all of the shopping experiences I have had in Indonesia this was amazing! Normally they put your soda, chocolate bar, chewing guns, or whatever other healthy things you want to buy into an extra plastic bag. Then they put another one, or just to be sure, two plastic bags around it.

Still excited about what just happened I went to the cashier, paid my bill, told her to please not put my newly acquired things into plastic bags and started my way back to the information desk to put the groceries into my backpack. All of a sudden three security guys surrounded me, one of them having a roll of plastic bags in his hand. “Sorry Mister, you have to take!” I smiled at him, told him thank you, but that I don’t want to. “No, you have to!” A little less smiling and a little more puzzled: “I have to? Why?” I thought of Singapore and that my shopping goods were packaged into a sealed plastic bag, but here, beyond the cashier, there was no more opportunity to put unpaid products into the bag!

You have to take the plastic bags

“Yes, you cannot, you have to” the one guy replied quite seriously and started to grab for the things in my basket, equipped with the plastic bags in his other hand. Now, this was too much for me to handle and although I really never wanted to be that outraged white person questioning whatever local rules people may have far away from home, and even less a person dropping the infamous “Can I please talk to your boss?”, that is exactly what happened. Whatsoever, they seemed to be happy to lead me the way to their supervisor. Maybe I was some kind of a trophy, one of those weird foreigners who dare to not use plastic bags. I really did not understand what was going on.

The boss received me, with what looked like a proud smile, a good catch? He started to explain me that I cannot do this and have to take plastic bags. Once again trying to understand why, he replied that the basket needs to stay here. I cannot take it with me. The basket!  Well, now that made sense, of course I should not take the market’s basket home with me.  I told him that I was just walking from the cashier directly to here to put the groceries into my backpack, which before I was not allowed to take with me … “No, you cannot”. Right, I cannot, but I understood the whole story much better now. I may not have figured the way yet to shop trouble and plastic free, by just using my backpack, but there is also not what for a short moment I believed to be a strictly enforced regulation for the obligatory use of plastic bags.


Posted in Research.

Environmental Behavior, PhD Candidate.

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