The warm glow we get from using fewer carrier bags to ferry our vegetables about will not save us from disasters to come
We are using more carrier bags, news that turns this column, on a cloudy Saturday, into a prophecy of death. Look at the data from Wrap, an organisation that promotes recycling, and learn that, after a fall in the number of carrier bags used by British consumers since 2006, prompted by a sort of existential national hysteria, we now see a gentle rise of 5.4%. In 2010 we used 7.6bn; in 2011 we used 8bn for onions, old socks, and other carrier bags.
So what? you say. To use 7bn is unfortunate, and 8bn is carelessness? No. Using fewer carrier bags was the Useless People’s Recycling. It was the tiny – and entirely cosmetic – commitment to the survival of the planet that the Daily Mail, and therefore everyone, would consider. The thought process was this: we have a bloodied biosphere. Perhaps I don’t need this carrier bag. (Preens.) This is the present I make to Planet Earth, my home (and I have no other, unless I believe Hollywoodland and its stories of spaceships and arks). I will save the turtle.
It sounds mad, and it was. The Daily Mail launched a campaign in 2008. The British Retail Consortium followed in 2009, taking “a symbolic step towards using resources more wisely”. The supermarkets cried and promised to do better, because nothing is more important than the environment, not even profit. David Cameron was properly faux angry, and in 2011 gave one of his funniest faux angry quotes, which made him sound like King Leonidas of Sparta, yet lurking in Sainsbury’s: “I know that retailers want to do better but if they don’t I will be asking them to explain why not.” (No wonder Putin doesn’t fear him.)