Naked shopping tales and thoughts on the 5p bag charge

I have shopped naked for quite a while now and as you can imagine I have had some interesting experiences (get your minds out of the gutter, I keep my clothes on – it is the food that is naked a.ka. unpackaged:)).
When I started it felt like I was going on an adventure – a plastic free one. I boldly stepped into the local shops with my reusable containers and asked if it was at all possible to buy my chicken, cheese, fish, fruit and vegetables without the assistance of single use plastic bags and packaging. Overwhelming the answer was yes, that was fine and I virtually skipped home after feeling a bit over excited about being able to do my shopping without creating a mountain of waste.
The local shopkeepers know me now. I walk in the door of the fishmongers and the lady behind the counter reaches for a glove to pick up the fish (they usually use a plastic bag). I walk into one of my local butchers and I don’t need to say a word, they head round the back to get me an unpackaged chicken.  Another butchers has become used to chopping cheese up for me from a massive block.
There is no danger of me forgetting to take my containers with me to these shops. I have made such a fuss that I would feel embarrassed to go into the shops without them!
Not all the shopkeepers get it though. I have had some experiences which have made me laugh a lot and some which were really frustrating. Here are a couple of examples:
  1. I went to buy cheese recently and the guy who chopped it up for me hadn’t done it before. I told him I wanted the cheese chopped up and put into my reusable containers and just assumed he would know why as I was sure he had seen me in there loads of times asking for cheese. I took my eye off the ball while he was doing it though and when I turned back I saw that he had put a thin layer of plastic in the box with the cheese. When I asked him why the plastic was in there he had said that he didn’t want to touch the cheese and quickly whipped it out of the box telling me there was no plastic in it at all anymore. I tried to explain that I was trying to avoid plastic waste (should have done that to start with really) but he wasn’t having any of it, just wasn’t interested. He wouldn’t even let me pay him for the cheese, he gave it to someone else to charge me so that he didn’t have to deal with me any more!
  2. I regularly go to a different butchers to buy a chicken. On this occasion I walked in with my large short handled saucepan (soup pan/ stock pot really), which is the perfect size and shape to first transport the chicken and then to store it in the fridge in.  I take it in a freezer bag and I have learned that it is easier to have the saucepan in the bag before the chicken goes in because it can be difficult to get the saucepan in afterwards as the lid isn’t fixed. So I went in there and the two guys behind the counter clocked me straight away. One went around the back and the other stayed where he was. I had my back to them trying to sort my saucepan out so the bag was tucked in under the handles, but the saucepan was still in it. I turned around to put it on the counter and before I could say a word the guy behind the counter whipped a chicken out of a plastic bag and put the chicken in the saucepan, then chucked the bag in the bin.  I think he thought if he did it quickly enough (even though I was standing right in front of him) I wouldn’t notice. Meanwhile the other guy came back with a unpackaged chicken that he got from the back for me. I said to the first guy – um did you just take that chicken out of a plastic bag. The second guy then started having a lighthearted go at the first guy – she only comes in here to do one thing, to buy an unpackaged chicken and you got it out of a plastic bag and I went to get her an unpackaged chicken!!! I was really impressed at this – usually I have to try to defend my request to not have packaging myself and the whole incident really made me laugh! I don’t think anyone is going to give me a chicken from a plastic bag in there again 🙂
Most of the shopkeepers that I have asked if I can have foods unpackaged are happy to do it, but even though some of them ask me why, they generally they don’t seem that interested. When I ask if they have ever had any other customers doing what I’m doing they have always said no. 
I can well imagine that it doesn’t occur to a lot of people to take their own containers to the shops and that even if it did they might forget to take them. They probably also don’t want the hassle of having to closely monitor and basically train shopkeepers to not give them disposable plastic with their shopping. The people in the shops are so used to whipping out a sheet of plastic here and a plastic bag there that they don’t even notice they are doing it sometimes, it has become second nature and they can need a bit of persuading to stop doing it! On top of that most people don’t go to the local shops anyway and it can be difficult to find unpackaged foods in the supermarket.
The 5p plastic bag charge has come into force in England today and although I actually don’t think it will affect any of the small local shops I visit or the types of food I am talking about, I think it is a good move in the right direction. An easy first step towards zero waste plastic free living is to take your own bags to the shops. Remembering to do it and not feeling like you have to remind shopkeepers not to put your stuff in a plastic bag, can be two of the biggest hurdles to overcome! I remember to take my bags and containers because I would be too embarrassed not to now, but I’m in a pretty small minority. The 5p charge isn’t wide ranging enough and barely scratches the surface of our disposable plastic habit, but hopefully it will help people to begin to change their habits and will open up the debate about single use plastic in general.
Have you had any interesting ‘naked’ shopping experiences and what do you think about the plastic bag charge?
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  1. One of my ongoing annoyances is when you explain you don't want a bag, they bag it anyway, and then when you give them the bag back they throw it away! I can't see that happening now, which delights me.

    I'm delighted by the charge, I think that it is something to remind us that even when something is free there is a cost somewhere.

  2. Also delighted by the charge!

    It's worked well in other countries before so it's only slightly annoying it's taken England to follow suit.

    I've actually had a few conversations with people who were moaning about how it is going to inconvenience their lives… can you believe it?! Talk about first world problems. I just told them to man the f*** up and get over it!!

    I think that all plastic packaging should have some sort of plastic tax on it, in fact any kind of wasteful packaging. I will admit I am a bit of a hypocrit here as I don't go anywhere near to the lengths that you do on avoiding this stuff, but I think that for real impact the changes must be top down, and there must be financial incentives to avoid excess and wasteful packaging. If the companies making the stuff didn't produce the plastic/wasteful packaging, then we wouldn't buy it, simple as.

  3. Zoe

    It would be a lot easier if stuff wasn't sold in packaging, but it is going to take time before that becomes mainstream. In the meantime I think we need both top down and bottom up approaches to avoiding excess and wasteful packaging.

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