The great Polish shopping bag scandal.

I’ve talked about this before and I suspect I’ll talk about it again because it ticks me off THAT much! The issue at question is that of shops in Warsaw charging for bags that will allow you to transport your goods from the shop to the car or wherever. Car? Who said car? I mean hybrid, planet-saving mode of transport of course.

It used to be that every store would package your goods, or provide you with bags so you could do it yourself. This makes sense, they want you to buy from them and they are making it easy for you to deal with the goods you buy. You spend money, they make a profit so that’s exactly what they should do. Well, apparently not any more.

This started perhaps six months to a year ago. You’d load up your trolley with goods at Bomi or Carrefour, get to the checkout and find the pile of bags had suddenly vanished. Thinking the checkout operator had forgotten to put them out you’d ask for some bags only to be told that they now cost 20 grosz each or that you had to choose between the skinny plastic ones for X PLN or the plastic ones that don’t break for Y PLN or the reusable ones that had been lovingly hand-sewn by well looked-after Indian peasants for Z PLN. The one consistent factor being that you needed to part with more money to be able to remove your goods from their conveyor belt. What started with a few grocery stores has now caught on like an Californian forest fire and has reached the point where just about every store, certainly every grocery store, is charging for bags. Most of them for the skimpy plastic things. Hell, I’m even being charged for bags by the Lukullus cake kiosk, all of 10m2, in the walkway of Zlote T so I’m not exaggerating here, charging extra for bags is Warsaw’s biggest recent trend after the promotion of Wellington boots to an item of high fashion!


Notwithstanding any of the ecological stuff, I have a fundamental problem in paying extra to be able to remove my goods from someone’s store. In buying the goods in their store I’m paying for a complete experience that includes a trolley to put things in, goods on shelves, a checkout and a means to take things away from the shop. Charging me extra for that last part is like buying a car (oops, there I go again) and being told I have to push it home or buying a cinema ticket and finding there are no seats.

I’ve taken to asking the shop assistants if their prices have been reduced to offset the money they are now making from the sale of the plastic bags they used to give away for free. The answer is always either “No!” or a blank stare.

The lame excuse for them increasing their profits is that this is “good for the planet”. That plastic shopping bags are evil and will single-handedly bring about the destruction of the known universe, and possibly of some parts we don’t know, within a matter of a few years. Frankly, I’m amazed Hollywood hasn’t caught onto this one yet – 2012 Plastic Armageddon! starring Keanu Reeves as a plastic bag.

Okay, I’ll accept that plastic isn’t a good thing to have in circulation but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of these shops are not charging me for paper bags, ones that have been made from trees allowed to roam free and cared for by herds of tree-hugging ecological nutters, they are charging me for nasty evil plastic bags. They also don’t charge enough for the evil bags to be taken seriously in their claim of wishing to change my bad habits and turn me into a better citizen. No no, they charge just enough to appear to be trying to save the planet while trousering a little more of my hard earned cash. They don’t give a toss about the planet, they just want to rip me off on my way out the door.

Of course the greatest hypocrisy of all is that 99% of the time I’m putting a hell of a lot more plastic INTO my plastic bag than the bag itself is made from. Look at the packaging of all those groceries or, God forbid, those Littlest Pet Shop toys that are 90% plastic packaging and 10% toy. What about all the little plastic bags I have to use to put my fruit and vegetables into so they can weigh them and make sure I’m not stealing an extra grape? Should I expect to be paying for those too soon?

So, I remain deeply unconvinced that these shop-keepers are motivated by anything other than greed. There’s a recession, times are hard, let’s charge for bags. When I see real evidence of shops and this country trying hard to be good to the planet then I’ll be very happy to join in but until then you can expect a few more posts like this one.


37 thoughts on “The great Polish shopping bag scandal.

  1. It’s the same situation here in Montreal, Canada. I feel the same way. We have a popular neighborhood grocery store (family run)that puts our groceries in biodegradable bags and they are free. Why don’t all stores do the same? I heard somewhere that stores pay less than a dollar for a box of 100 plastic bags.

    Buy a few cloth bags and keep them your car.

    By the way, I am a regular reader and your articles are always entertaining.

  2. Get used to cultural differences :-) You are for a total shopping experience of a hipermarket, others talked of the eco style-european way. Germany, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Italy—they all charge you for plastic bags. Why? Because asking the client to pay is the only way to make sure that the client will (probably) remember to bring his own bags or buy fewer bags. They will also make you pay extra for your milk in the glass bottle, and – in some countries – 15 euro-cents for bottled water and cola in plastic bottles. So, adapt or perish :-)

  3. OMG, not again.

    Just take a wool-bag with you and stop complaining.

    Plastic bags are a disaster. They need 400yrs to decay. A (recycle-)paper bag a couple of weeks. Plastic bags are used 1-2 times and then you can find them here…

    Watch this

    and next time use the intelligent part of you brain, and not the lazy one… ;)

  4. Dear Scatts,

    sorry to put it so bluntly: can’t you bring your own bags? We’re drowning in plastic.

    What you describe in your post are regulations that German and Austrian shops have introduced a few years ago, that operate in Canada and, luckily, are being introduced in co-ops in the US.

    Going shopping–bring your own bags or buy some. They don’t cost a fortune. That used to be doable in the past (in Poland, not so long ago), it’s perfectly doable again.

  5. That’s not greed.

    Seriously. After a month or so in the US I was stuck with a huge pile of sheer plastic bags. Not very useful, because they tend to tear easily, so you can’t re-use them at the speed you accumulate them.

    I make a point of bringing my own shopping bags–and if you do that too, you won’t fall prey to the “greed” of the “German model of making business.” You only would if forced you to buy their bags and if their bags were pricey. And they usually are pretty cheap.

  6. Sorry, but what a load of crap.

    YOu accuse them of profiteering, then complain that they’re charged too cheaply to make a difference. But clearly it is enough to make a difference, because you’re moaning.

    If it gets people to think next time ‘ooh, I’ll bring back my bags from last time’ then great. Everyone’s a winner.

    It sounds like they’ve priced it perfectly; enough to remind people to re-use bags, not enough to put them off shopping if they forget.

  7. You don’t seem to have the sympathy of the nation on this one.

    According to this report on Uzar News :

    you’re quite right about them making money from the idea. It would be too much to expect anything else. Supermarkets might be persuaded to adopt policies that improve society, but they’re not going to do it if it costs them anything.

    It’s a tricky one. The raising of awareness about plastic bags did change my behaviour. I now take reusable bags with me when I go to the supermarket and 9 times out of 10 I remember to take some kind of bag with me when I go to the local corner shop.

    I don’t think this contributes to saving the world, but it does help reduce the needless waste of resources and the creation of a particularly nasty form of rubbish.

    The trouble is these ‘green’ issues become conflated. There is a green fashion / hysteria and there is an industry that caters to it. Personally I believe that, even if there is such a thing as global warming and it does threaten major changes in climate patterns, there is very little chance that we can do anything meaningful about it; the changes required are just too massive. But there are other issues, pollution caused by excessive plastic waste being one of them, that we probably can do something about and that will make a real difference to the quality of the (dreaded) environment. The small changes required to my way of life seem worth it.

    Should supermarkets offer paper (or whatever) bags instead of plastic? Almost certainly. Should the fact that they don’t stop you from changing your habits a little bit so you have a bag around when you need one? That seems hard to justify.

  8. Jake – my moaning is not a real difference, I moan all the time. The price should make me go back to the car and get the reusable bags, or even better they should have no bags for me to buy.

    Jamie – I wasn’t expecting a lot of sympathy although I think many are missing my (badly made) point. I’d be happy to pay for paper bags or any kind of eco-friendly bags, I object to paying for the same evil bags they used to give me for free. I’d also be happier paying if I thought this was all part of a coordinated attempt to make Poland a greener place, but it isn’t. Not yet at least. It is just isolated action by retailers jumping on the bandwagon of making bigger profits with a ‘legitimate’ excuse to do so and not have people complaining at them.

    Of course, if you’re rich and can shop in posh shops you don’t need to worry about the environment. Ever been charged for a bag in a shop where you’ve paid serious wonga for something? Of course not. Another nail in the suggestion that this is all a well planned eco drive by the Polish state. And please don’t try to tell me this is a grass roots popular citizens eco uprising.

  9. I think our corner store stopped giving away plastic bags entirely. It was the cloth/reusable ones or nothing. I think they started selling the cheap plastic ones again but when they were trying to get rid of them entirely my wife and I just got used to bringing a cloth bag with us. Besides, normally I and/or my wife have our fairly sturdy and voluminous backpacks with us. If there isn’t enough room in the backpacks then a supplemental cloth bag is usually more than sufficient.

    Personally, I see this as a non-issue. Yes, it is irritating that they charge you for the bags. However, they also have you put a coin in for the trolley and then some “homeless” person kindly asks if he (always a male) can return my trolley for me. More money gone and quite a lot more than the cost of the bags. To top it off, everything is already ungodly expensive here so another 20 groszy or whatever is the least of my worries. Plus if it gets a few people to use the cloth bags and stop flinging them everywhere so that they end up in the trees like third world Christmas tree ornaments then it’s worth it.

  10. But Brad, I already have plenty of things I have to carry around with me I really don’t want a shopping bag to be my next best friend. I mean you don’t always make separate and discreet trips to the shop do you. You go here and then there and wander about and then do stuff and THEN go to the shop so all this while I have to drag a sodding bag with me?!!?!

    “Hi Ian!”

    “Yeah, hi person I know! Did I introduce you to my shopping bag?”

    “Nice bag!”

    “Yeah, nice. I’m saving up for one of those granny trolleys in tartan chintz fabric!”



  11. I suggest you demand the plastic bags as your goddamn right, and then blame India (or China?) for producing them:))

  12. They are extremely pricey. Not many people know what’s the actual leverage. It’s around 2000%. Yes, two thousand. Manufacturing a bag costs virtually nothing, a fraction of a cent

    The bags often carry a logo of the shop. Thus, customers are supposed to act as living advertisement carriers. They should be paid for that, not charged

    One easily could reuse the bags as litter bags. Even if they were somewhat torn or punched. Oh wait, litter bags are a commodity at the same shop. Know your place, pay

    I’m not against bringing own bags. I only want to underline my right to require a decent service. In other words, should I buy a car if the dealer told me that there was no gas at all in the tank?

  13. It just became law in the District of Columbia to charge 5 cents per bag on January 1st. DC residents on the whole (forget the 1000s of people who live here during a particular politician’s career) tend to be pretty progressive. Still, the large grocery chains gave away free cloth bags the first week to try and promote their use.

    During subsequent visits, I’d say about half of shoppers are bringing the bags back to use again. It’s a start.

  14. I take plastic bags. When empty, they go with all plastic bottles, yoghurt cups, salami wrappers, all washed, clean and dry, into a box labelled ‘clean dry plastics for recycling’. Then they are stored in the garage. Every few weeks I drive to the local recycling point where I put plastics into one container, coloured glass into another, clear glass into another and paper and cardboard into yet another. Then a company that makes money from selling segregated household waste onto someone that can do something more useful with it than fill holes in the ground takes it all away.

    Can anything be simpler? Or are you all to lazy to segregrate rubbish and give it (free!) to a ‘greedy’ company that will put it to good use?

  15. Having experienced the ‘national outrage’ when paing for plastic bags was introduced in Ireland by law a few years ago (similar to the law mentioned by DC), I too tend to take my back-pack with me when food shopping (like Brad Z). However, further reason complaint arose about a year ago when the prices of bags went up – approximately 20 cents for a regular plastic bag (€uro-land cents) meaning about 80 grosz. Pure profit I tells ya!

    I actually look forward to the possibility of having my goods packaged in paper bags though – I only wish they were stronger. One of my IKEA paper bags tore after exactly 2 minutes and 17 seconds, which was a disappointment, but not unexpected.

    What really confuses me though is that the supermarkets seem to charge for bags, but retail outlets either don’t charge, or have factored their cost into the prices of goods. Buying clothes or other items seem to guarantee a ‘free’ bag, which comes back towards Scatts point of the hypocrisy of the situation.

  16. I read on IMDB that Keanu Reeves had to forgo the part of playing a plastic bag due to the “challenging nature of the role”.

  17. Congratulations! You managed to wind a lot of people up but I suppose that was the whole point, wasn’t it?
    Must not have been in the UK for a long time,you should see the “plastic” histeria here… Big compaing to reduce the use of plactic bags,bags for life,reusable bags etc, and what? It lasted maybe a month or two,people proudly demonstrated their bags for life, and after a while nobody even remembers them!!! I’ve noticed I am the only stupid one at the supermarket now who still brings her own reusable bag – nobody else bothers anymore!!!
    And I would really really want that they would start charging people for them!!!
    Plastic bags are horrible,there are tons of them used everyday, and just thrown away.

    Tell me – have you not thought yet about buyibg some nice thicker bag and using it for shopping ? That would be so nice and easy…
    and cheap! Think how much money you would have saved….no to mention our planet.

  18. Just two bits of info:

    1. The no-free-plastic-bags phenomenon is, as Island pointed out, caused by law. Or actually, so far as I can understand, by a shadow of a law that was supposed to be passed sometime in 2008 (but is still in the making).

    2. So far as I’ve heard the government has scrapped a provision in the relevant “plastic bags” bill that would have put a tax on those things.

  19. Charging people for plastic bags is pure profiteering, but it’s a start.

    A better start would be teaching various members of the Polish population (I’m trying hard not to generalise and/or stereotype) how to use public bins (assuming they can find one) and how to clean up after their dogs.

    But on the whole, Poles are lousy recyclers, but great at reducing and re-using.

    Even the EU know about it

  20. That’s completely ridiculous, and if anybody thinks it has anything to do with saving the planet they are a sorry sucker.
    Why not offer free recycled paper bags, if the environment is such a concern? Oh, I know, because the company would not be able to increase their overhead by ripping of their own customers.

  21. Not really the point to wind people up, Kiki. I can think of far better ways to do that if I need to.

    How about this, I’ll start carrying around a nice tree-hugging bag for my shopping when the goods I put into it use less plastic than 5 of the old style plastic carrier bags. Deal? Might be a bit of a challenge as I expect one yoghurt pot uses the same as about 5 bags, possibly more.

    Of course not. No. It is me that has to start saving the planet, the consumer. I have to make a stand by carrying a fabric bag around. How long am I supposed to carry this bag around before the manufacturers will change their ways, eh? Or before the government get serious about the issue? A whole nation carrying around fabric bags for what? A drop in the ocean? Just as ultimately self-defeating as sending money to Haiti.

  22. “Histeria”. “Compaing”. “Anymore”. “Plactic”.
    “Buyibg”. No spaces after commas.

    Makes me realise that the UK has a far bigger problem than recycling shopping bags at hand – namely the education of its children.

  23. Just look at what happens in Polish-language Internet. My country doesn’t fall behind… People can’t build a coherent sentence, fail to express their thoughts and make a few orthographic errors in one sentence in their native language.

    After reading all those articles about “The English who don’t know well their mother tongues”, Poles, who have to dumb down their language to be understood and experiencing English classes with allegedly well-educated natives speakers (from US), who answered our vocabulary questions by saying “I don’t know this word” (examples I’m recalling now: travesty, inculcate, premonition, scrawny, venerable) or were totally unaware of the existence of such thing as British English, I haven’t got a clue where the world is heading…

  24. Pingback: Bags « 20 east

  25. Simply carry your own, re-usable bags :) I guess it won’t make any harm if you’d have a few of them stored in your ca… hybrid, planet-saving mode of transport of course.

  26. Scatts, I’m with You. All those “green idiots” won’t understand simple implication of Your points…
    There’s no such thing as plastic bag problem. There is plastic problem and it lays elsewhere. But: more of 80% of people are unable to do proper math and logic (by saing “proper” i mean “enough to do understand statistics”). Plastic is in products, bags can be free and made of paper, it’s all about money and some people are so stupid, they are defending this thing and trully believe it will help our planet. Do Your scientiffic research and You will find what’s the real problem and how to solve it, morrons! You need to change the scale of organic chemistry industry perception, to understand how things work. And there’s no such thing as decay time. Only half-time decay, but those thing is not understood by most of folks out there… When You see in TV or in magazine words “decay time”, You should know it’s a brainwashing machine.
    BTW: For all my thesis I have a proof – starting with “more than 80% of people…”, but i’ll do it in polish, if i have to, because i don’t know english enough to do scientific explanation. Yet ;]

    P.S. Sorry for my poor english – i hope You will understand.

    P.P.S. And yes, I know i’m being rude.

  27. Hey, I live in the UK now. And have to always remember which shops charge for plastic bags and which don`t – I have a big blue Ikea bag in my car in readiness – and don`t find it too strange to pay! When I go to Sainsbury`s, I know I need an Ikea bag with me, when I shop at Tesco`s, I don`t need to carry it! As simple as that. Get yourself something similar to save in the hard times. And if you think that anything is free abroad, let me just tell you that there has been some plans here to charge shoppers for parking at supermarket car parks – anytime.

  28. I have about eight or nine canvas bags from various grocery stores in my car (not a hybrid, sorry) ready for action. There’s a certain co-op that puts out a newsletter where Letters to the Editor by extremist tree-hugger-types were getting viscious over the fact that certain shoppers were seen using produce bags in the produce section, even though they had brought their own larger grocery bags to put the main groceries in. The subject of the smaller cellophane produce bags caused quite a lot of consternation for this crowd, and every time I shop there (they have all-organic produce and it’s really a great place other than it being fanatical) I look around cautiously, wondering if someone is going to turn me in to the plastic police. I am the type who walks up to the produce bags and pulls off five at a time, knowing I am going to buy at least five types of produce. I am for using alternate bags, though. If they made small netted bags for produce, I would buy those to reuse (I think they do have those, though I’ve never seen them).

    Scatts, you can fold the canvas bag quite small and stuff it in the pocket of your Barbour jacket :-D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s