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Do You Ever Feel...

... Like A Plastic Bag? Once worthless: now worth 5p?

The Katy Perry lyric has a whole new significance in England today, as the 5p charge for plastic bags comes into effect. It's fun to watch, from the relative safety of Northern Ireland, where the charge has applied for several years.

The jokes go on. 'Have you got a bag for life?' the Sainsbury's till operator asks. 'Yes, thanks,' says Husband, nodding in my direction...

I know, I know. It's a serious matter: the environment is being polluted by the flocks of free plastic bags which have been spreading around our countryside, festooning trees, or lying rejected on city streets. Our oceans are polluted with plastic remnants and our marine life is slowly being poisoned. I get it: believe it or not, I even care. But the horrified hand wringing and panic in England today, so bad it's even got its own hashtag, #plasticbagchaos, just makes me laugh. Who could really get that upset at either needing to bring a bag when you go shopping, or being charged 5p if you don't...? Most people, it seems.

And I get that too. Take it from a seasoned plastic-bag-forgetter: you do feel deeply guilty and just a little bit ashamed when you're shopping, you're at the till, you're about to buy and the sales person asks you: 'Do you need a bag?' You feel that you're confessing to not caring if marine life die or the tender saplings are throttled by flying, reject bags. #plasticbagethos. They give you a look. 'That'll be 5p, then, ok?' You've been fined, and you've been told. Go forth, and do not sin again: maybe it's an Irish thing, but carrying a pristine new bag always feels like an act of public contrition. If I really cared, the subtext goes, I'd have a battered old shopping bag from many times ago, or a strong and handsome bag for life or even something canvas, proclaiming that This Is Not A Plastic Bag. The superheroes of the non-disposable carrier world, the strengthened plastic bag or the reinforced, waterproofed canvas one can solve all ills, carrying your shopping and simultaneously saving the world: #plasticbagkudos.

But what if the plastic bag you just happen to have with you one day doesn't accord with where you shop? Shopping bags have always been a sort of free advertising for the shops you've just visited, announcing to fellow shoppers where you've been. The confusion of putting cosmetics from Boots into a clothes store bag from M&S is disorientating. Think #plasticbaglogos. You can do it. It's ok. I've had books in a House of Fraser bag, clothes in a Waterstones bag and cosmetics in a Tesco Bag for Life, and I've survived. I have, though, also handed my husband a bright pink carrier from the depths of my handbag, and had it refused: it just didn't seem worthy of his manly purchases...

And that's just it. Every so often, even though I've got much better over time at having a bag folded up in my handbag or coat pocket, sometimes I feel I need to go quite wild and buy a new one. Sometimes I really just can't deal with the pain. If I have one bag, and buy, perhaps, a top in one place and some shower gel somewhere else, what if the shower gel leaks onto the top? #plasticbagchaos. If I'm using an aged bag for my supermarket shopping, what if there's some sort of food-leakage which causes germs, which perpetuate from week to week? #plasticbagnauseous. When either you or the salesperson has, say, a heavy cold, and you're pretty sure your bag's been contaminated by a sneeze? #plasticbagmucus. Or when you're still carrying the special Christmas bag you picked up in November, as you shop for suncream and light clothing for your summer holidays? #plasticbagconfuss. Times like this, you just have to weather the shame, pay your 5p, divorce yourself from what you thought was a bag for life but turned out to be a bag for now. For then. For a while.

Do I ever feel like a plastic bag? A bag for life? I suppose I do. I'm ok for a while. I fulfil my purpose. I'm anonymous enough that I mostly don't look too much out of place. I carry my content and I tell a certain story. When I stop being fit for purpose, I can be replaced. Unlike plastic bags, though, people can change. Adapt. Develop. Compose ourselves to suit our situations, rather than simply decomposing and ruining our surroundings. In Northern Ireland, we've evolved to deal with the 5p bag charge. We've survived. If you're reading this and thinking you won't cope: you will. Don't be sad. It's all #plasticbagpathos today, but tomorrow it's #plasticbagnotoss. Tomorrow is another day. And an old bag.

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