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| Last Updated:29/05/2020

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Why should carry bags be charged for? It makes sense, once we factor in the environment

  Recently there has been a hue and cry about retailers charging for carry bags, with the issue getting a lot of air time on local radio stations as well. Rightly so. We have been a nation where customers are not accustomed to paying for the humble carry bag. In fact, often it is considered a consumer’s right.

Retailers routinely get asked for additional free bags from customers who shop at their stores. And why not? After all, they are spending with the retailer. This was rampant when plastic carry bags were still in circulation.

In 2011, a circular from the environment ministry brought in the environmental angle. The ministry wanted to curb excessive use of plastic bags and also reduce their irresponsible disposal.

It therefore adopted the ‘polluters pay’ principle, and mandated that no retailer shall give a carry bag free to its customers. It also set up some stipulations to this.     

Retailers knew that their business hinges on a positive experience for customers and  such a move could upset some customers. However, most modern retailers in the country adopted this as they understood the spirit of the directive.

And the impact was very visible. The consumption of plastic carry bags among the top 50 retailers in the country reduced drastically, from around 2100 tons to 900 tons per month.

More customers started bringing their own bags to retail stores and also stopped asking for extra bags. In fact, retailers saw more than 80% of customers appreciate this move.

Many states in the country have now boldly banned the use of plastic carry bags. This has led to using paper bags as the alternative.

Currently, there is no law that mandates use of paper bags or charging for carry bags by retailers. However, retailers had seen around 70% reduction in consumption of carry bags and also witnessed that none of their branded bags were visible littered on the streets, which is why many continued to charge for paper bags too.

In most cases, the charge was nominal and less than the cost at which retailers bought the bags. It is a sensible, sustainable way – adopted by many environment-conscious countries to encourage people to think about the larger cause of environment rather than personal convenience or a negligible cost saving.

The issue has now caught the attention of the media and consumers, who believe that retailers are making money at their expense and forcing them to buy the bag. There is also a section of people who believe that bags are an advertising medium and should be given free.

The truth, however, is far from it – for a number of reasons.

First, most retailers charge only a part of the cost of bags to the customers. Moreover, branding adds value to any product. Customers buy items and hold branded goods in higher esteem.

Indiscriminate use of paper can be harmful to the environment and one needs to curb excessive consumption. And customers cannot be forced to buy anything from retailers, let alone being forced to buy a humble bag.

Most customers also like the idea of curbing excessive use of paper bags. More than 75% customers prefer to bring their own bags.

We, in this nation, believe that any item we pay for has some residual value and automatically look for reuse and also consider scrap pricing seriously. After all, this is one of the nations where a newspaper is not thrown into the dustbin or on the streets, as in many of the so called advanced nations.

We should not cavil, therefore, at reuse of carry bags – or to pay a small price for a new one.

Source: Times of India   Dated: 18.06.2019