David Perry: plastic isn’t my bag


The other day it suddenly all went dark. The sky was blocked by a huge lorry pulling up outside.

It wasn’t for me. It was delivering a couple of pallets of boxes to the gift shop next door. They were all carrier bags – posh, printed, paper ones in various sizes. That has to be a big on-cost if they give them away.

The little deli the other side has paper bags too. Theirs have tape handles which rip under the weight of anything more substantial than a bag of crisps. They charge 20p for them.

We have paper bags too but with twist handles which easily support three bottles. We get through quite a few and I recently realised they cost us about 30p each. I’m reluctant to charge for them, though. They aren’t plastic so we don’t have to. If they were pre-printed we would have to order in volumes too big to store: volumes far greater than printed plastic bags, for reasons I have never understood. Without our logo and telephone number, they would be hard to justify as a marketing cost. I got around this by having a rubber stamp made and we print them up as required. Very artisan looking, too.

We changed to paper quite a few years ago when the town moved towards being plastic-free. Plastic bags were becoming a bit embarrassing. The ones we used were pre-printed and looked very smart. They were quite substantial and certainly not single use. One old chap, who buys a bottle of sherry every week, still proudly produces his vintage bag from his coat pocket. I once spotted two separate families by the seafront in Weymouth using my bags to carry wet swimming costumes.

I used to point out to people that they were bio-something so that was OK. I found out though that they were degradable, but not bio-degradable. They would turn to dust if left in daylight for any length of time. Basically they turned into micro-plastic, which is not good. It was a customer who gently pointed it out. She happened to be a bio-chemist professor specialising in bio-degradable materials. So now we use paper bags.

If we go out shopping we take bags with us. I am constantly amazed by the number of people who pick up a few bottles and then stand looking at them wondering how they are going to carry them. They can’t all be impulse shoppers. Some are reluctant to ask for a bag in case it costs them 5p. Frequently they wait until after they have paid before asking for a bag, just in case. Most of the time I ask if they might like a bag. Sometimes, out of devilment, I don’t. If they are buying more than three bottles I’ll pack them in a pre-loved cardboard box.

Sometimes I will pop the bottles into the free bag and hand it over only to be asked if it is strong enough. Of course it is, or we wouldn’t use them, would we? They’ll look at it and then either ask for two bags (no!) or cradle it like a baby, saying “I’d better hold it underneath”. No, that way the bottles are likely to spill out the top. Just hold it by the handle like a normal person. “Look,” I say, holding the bag and jerking it up and down, “it’s very strong – it’s made for the purpose!” If they are still not convinced I add: “I tell you what, if you get halfway down the street and the bag breaks and your bottles smash, then bring it back and I’ll replace the bag free of charge.” And to myself I think, “or better still, next time bring your own bag!”

Here’s a tip if you want to have fun driving me mad. If you are ever being a tourist in north Dorset, come into our shop. Make sure that you have young children and that they have been fed blue Smarties and orange squash until they are hyperactive. If possible include a large and muddy undisciplined dog – but no lead. Then, after 20 minutes looking, ask for my advice on whether to buy the medium-dry or medium-sweet small bottle of local cider. After a further 20-minute deliberation, come to the counter to pay for your £3 purchase but first ask me to gift wrap it as it’s a present. Pay by American Express … and then ask me for a free carrier bag.

David Perry is the owner of  Shaftesbury Wines in Dorset

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