30 October 2011

LIFE: Bag It

SARONNO, Italy- There is something in the collective personality of the Italians that rebels when non-Italians try to push them into conformity. Not that they are anti-conformists, absolutely not. It’s more the idea of the proposed conformity coming from stranieri that raises their hackles.
Italian Grocery Store
For example, about a year ago the Environmental Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo announced a ban on plastic bags. Plastic bags as we knew them would no longer be used. They were to be replaced by biodegradable bags that would not pollute the environment. 

While everyone was in agreement that the environment should be protected it was the idea of having to change our lifestyle and even worse, align ourselves to the rest of Europe that brought protests.
Part of the Daily Ritual, A Stop at the Fruttivendolo
“We are not prepared to face such a cultural change,” said Giampaolo Pagnini, a lawyer from Florence. ‘We should take it slowly, because we do not have the cultural background to know how to deal with this. If it took us forever to adapt to wearing seat belts when that law came into effect.”  Antonella d’Antoni, a bank employee in Rome agreed. “This is the same and it will take time.”

The government spent a great deal of our taxpayer money on an ad campaign touting the change, but even months after the ban was announced there were people who were unaware of it. The new law allowed shops to use up their supply of old plastic bags, but they were not allowed to charge for them.  But life in the grocery lane went on as usual.
Even the Horse Meat Butcher Has to Conform
"I do not agree with the banning of plastic shopping bags," says Luigi Taragni, a pediatrician from Rieti. "I think they are preferable and much better than paper ones or nondegradable ones, which are more difficult to handle, hold less, break more easily and cost more. I'll adapt to this decision, just like I was forced to adapt to rubbish recycling, but I am not sure I agree with these limited measures." Some, such as Stefano Germani from Rome, fear this is just going to turn into a new business: "All this is about is increasing the cost of new degradable bags that consumers will be forced to purchase if they do not want to face fines."

Women who go to the shops on a daily basis say there is only one solution and everyone will have to get used to it. "We have to change our habits. We need to bring our own bags from home every time we go shopping. It's a change of mentality that is needed," says Daniela Lo Castro, a housewife from Milan and the mother of three boys.

The Daily Hassle
A spokesperson from Italy’s Environmental League agreed. “While there is no doubt in my mind that a change in mentality is needed and change always takes some time, it is also true that our children will learn not to use plastic bags because these will no longer be available. Consequently, a benefit to their environment not in the short-term but certainly in the long-term will be assured.”

So now the degradable bags have been in use for close to a year and their fan base remains relatively small. The bags really are flimsy and tear very easily creating a problem in a country where women walk to the store and carry their groceries home. It has happened to me. In fact it happened the other day. I wasn’t twenty feet from the grocery store when someone said to me, “Signora, your groceries are starting to fall out of the bag.” 

Nonna's Grocery Sack
Sure enough, something I bought had poked a hole in the bag and with every step I took it was getting bigger and bigger. If I hadn’t gone back and gotten another bag I would have found myself trying to carry a bag of frozen peas and a cauliflower and cans of tuna and everything else home in my arms. 

But there is a solution, but it not to go forward toward the new technology, but backwards toward the old and start carrying cloth groceries bags just like my Grandmother did. I guess we’ve come full circle on that issue.

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