Sunday, May 16, 2004

Save the Earth?

Something grabbed my attention while waiting in line at a pastry shop. The woman ahead of me had chosen five different buns - nothing out of the ordinary there. It was the way the employee who packed them that drew my attention. With the aid of metal tongs, she put each bun in its own tiny plastic bag. She then put all them into a larger plastic bag so that the woman could carry all of them. That was six plastic bags in all, not including the ones she was already carrying. I don't think that anyone else would bat an eyelid.

However, several things went through my mind at that point. Why did each pastry need its own plastic bag? Were they "psychologically insecure" so that they need their own space? Was there some "racial" hatred among buns? Perhaps the rationale was that the "flavours" of the buns should not mix. Who would want to eat a chicken sausage-coconut-egg custard-tuna-otak bun? Then why not put the sweet buns in one bag and the others in another?

If the packaging was meant to allow the woman to eat them without actually touching the bun with her hands, then why was the woman eating with such dirty hands? Did that employee (or pastry shops in general) assume that customers have filthy hands and therefore need protection from themselves? Thank you very much. Or were the buns so dirty that they could not touch each other (or the person's hands) but must instead proceed straight to a mouth and stomach?

When it was my turn, I insisted that my buns (the pastries, not the other set) be put in one plastic bag, a small one at that. I didn't even want a carrier as I believed my fingers had evolved sufficiently to actually grip a single plastic bag. As my reward, I got a quizzical look. In fact, every time I buy a bun or doughnut or curry puff or goreng pisang, I get that look. Actually, sometimes I get an incredulous look, while some look at me as if to determine if I am some alien life form. Yet others seek confirmation, "All in one only, ah?" Ah-ber, den?

This is not a matter of insecure buns, protective plastic bags or grubby fingers. That would be trivial! It about our attitudes, the way we think or accept things as they are just because things are always done that way. Using plastic bags like that is not only wantonly wasteful, it propagates ignorance. In the case of the pastry shop, it boils down to dollars and cents: they could save money by using less plastic. In doing so, they not only help reduce the demand for plastic in general but also lessen the amount of rubbish dumped on our planet.

I would like to know what that woman might do with five tiny plastic bags. Use them to collect her Chihuahua's doo-doo on his next walk-walk? If indeed this was the case, I have no objection as there is a good use for the bags. Turn them into some see-thru costume for her daughter's Barbie Doll? Ridiculous? Yes, but so is putting each bun in it's own plastic bag

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