Please respect that this is a Barbie-free zone: Does the world need any more plastic?

March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Some years ago a woman I know received an invitation to a party for her very young daughter. Words to this effect appeared on the invitation: Please respect that this is a Barbie-free zone

These words caused a frisson among those that had been invited. These things do. Most of us, I presume, wish to pass as normal: normal in the sense of not being odd or peculiar. At the same time, the wish to be normal is opposed by a wish to think one’s life out for oneself and not mindlessly follow what others do.

We have impulses which we fear are ‘peculiar’, and to which we do not have the self-confidence to succumb. Yet we wonder when we resist such impulses, if we are denying the true expression of ourselves. Do you, as I do, envisage (Fowler or Gowers did not like the word) a tribunal, composed perhaps of family, friends and acquaintances, judging your actions and finding them wanting?

To me, the Barbie-free zone message is not at all offensive, provided the doll was excluded on grounds similar to these:

1. A sweat shop toy ( I imagine so, perhaps Barbies are made in America)

2. Made of plastic, which like the poor, will always be with us

3. Limits a child’s notion of female beauty

4. Does not truly aid the child’s creative imagination

5. Does not develop a child’s aesthetic

6. The child does not really want the doll but feels bound to want it, to be like other children, or the child has been too strongly influenced by advertisers

There are messages I would like to put on invitations about acceptable gifts:

1. Gifts made in England out of natural materials

2. Gifts made by small communities that are paid enough, and treated well (fairtrade/ethical)

3 Well made second-hand gifts. (A thing of beauty is a joy forever.)

In this way, I would receive no plastic, or things made in China (by exploited workers?), few logo-bearing goods of international companies, and few product lines from supermarkets. (Why give more custom to supermarkets?)

I don’t put messages, on invitations, that indicate my prejudices and preferences but I do try to get such messages across. I give only European-made* gifts or fair trade gifts. But I am not at all sure that actions speak louder than words: an invitation bearing the message, Please respect that this is a Barbie-free zone will not be so quickly forgotten.

*There is, of course, legal truth. Made in [a European country] might mean that a few final touches were put to a product which had been, by and large, made in China.

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Penalties for using plastic bags

November 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Perhaps the greatest users of the plastic bag are to be found in England. Why are the English such devotees of plastic bags? Plastic bags are not things of beauty. I don’t like looking at them or touching them or hearing their particular crackle.

It is not the norm for characters in novels to carry plastic bags. If writers were to be truer to life, novels would be crowded with people, crackling plastic bags. Characters’ accoutrements would often include plastic bags, sporting the logo of a much-advertised supermarket.

Writers don’t give the plastic bag much room in their fiction. Not as much room, I think, as brown paper parcels–those precursors of the plastic bag–were given. Brown paper parcels are a very different matter. They appeal to the imagination in a way that plastic bags never could.

Years ago (about 1992) a friend of mine spoke in disgust of our fellow country people, the Irish. They were a dirty littering species whose nationality he was ashamed to share. He had just come back from Bavaria where there was no devotion to the plastic bag. The Germans had their own receptacles for carrying shopping which they used again and again. They did not pollute the environment with plastic bags as the Irish did

Those were the bad old days: the Irish have made a considerable advance since then. Gone are the days when people emerge from Irish food stores burdened with plastic bags. What brought about this change? Were shoppers concerned about the environment? Sadly no! Their concern was a mercenary one. Food stores began to charge for plastic bags which they had formerly provided so profligately.

When people had to pay for plastic bags, they quickly found that plastic bags were dispensable. Shoppers managed to bring their own reusable bags or carry goods to the car in cardboard boxes. A revolution occurred.

You can tell people that cutting down their consumption of plastic bags would be good for the environment or you can simply penalise them for using plastic bags (make them pay for them). The second way has immediate results and the first—as can be seen in England—only negligible ones. In England there is plenty of talk about the environment, but the plastic bag still flourishes.

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