Shopping, refuse bags: Are you paying more for less?

Shopping, refuse bags: Are you paying more for less?

Plastic bag issues concern quite a few consumers. So this first Consumerwatch of 2016 is devoted to plastic bags: big, small, from brightly coloured to serious black.

Shopping bag
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I get quite a few emails from consumers all over the country, alleging that the supermarket carrier bags we have been forced to pay for since 2004, because they are thicker, are now thinner than were were back then. 

My most recent email was from Beatrix Rose, who singled out Pick n Pay’s bags as being particularly thin.

So, I put this to PnP and their spokesman assured me that’s not the case - the bags are 24 microns as they’ve always been, although there can be variances in batches.

And incidentally, I happen to have PnP bags from pre-2004 - when they were free - and I can confirm that they were indeed noticeably thinner than they are now. 

Of course, what we should all be angry about is the fact that the whole point of making us pay for thicker bags, is the bags were meant to be recycled, and a percentage of what we pay for each bag in tax was supposed to go towards government sponsored recycling projects. 

Well, most people now just buy new bags every time they shop, and the bag tax doesn’t go towards any recycling projects, it goes straight into the general tax. Scandalous!

By the way, remember when Woolies swapped their usual green carrier bags for red during the festive season? All very cute, but did you notice that you paid 56c for them instead of the usual 47c? That’s because that red colour and the fact that it was a special short run meant they cost Woolies more, so they passed on the cost.

All very wasteful, if you ask me

Where are the new, thicker, drawstring recycling bags?

Durban Solid Waste told us we’d be getting the thicker orange bags with the drawstrings for paper and plastic, and new clear bags for glass and cans, before Christmas. 

Well, that didn’t happen, so this week I asked what’s going on.

A Durban Solid Waste spokesman told me yesterday that there was a delay and provided no new date, clearly a bit commitment shy at this point.

In the meantime, they’re distributing the old thin orange bags, and if you want to recycle your glass and cans, just put them out on your verge in any plastic bag - those expensive supermarket bags, for example.

Now there’s a good use for them!

The 'expensive' blue bags

I read a letter published in one of our local papers during the festive season complaining about the ridiculous price of the blue bags for garden refuse.

The municipality won’t remove garden refuse from verges in any old blue plastic bag - only branded DSW blue garden refuse bags, and yes, they are relatively expensive: currently R61,50 for a pack of 12, if you buy them directly from DSW or a municipal office - more if you buy them from retail outlets such as supermarkets, nurseries and garage shops, as they mark up that price, of course. 

That’s because you’re not just paying for the plastic bag; you’re paying for DSW’s removal service. So only those people who have gardens and wish to dispose of garden refuse, pay for the service, rather than it being simply added on to everyone’s bill. Seems fair to me.

The cheapest option is to get the bags from Durban Solid Waste directly. Their offices are at 17 Electron Road Springfield - same road as Makro.  Show your metro consolidated bill at the gate, and ask for Lungi. You can buy as many packs as you like, and the cost will be added to your next bill.

You can also choose to have a pack delivered to you monthly but those who need more or less than 12 bags a month may prefer to buy as they need.

I’m ashamed to know I didn’t know that buying directly from DSW was an option until I was researching this show - I’ve always bought my packs of blue garden refuse bags from supermarkets or garage shops - more convenient, yes, but more expensive, too.

Heavy duty - but is it really?

Finally, a word or two about black bags.

You can put out as many black bags for collection as you like and DSW will take them off to landfill, whether they are the black bags they issue free every three months, or extras which you’ve bought from a retail outlet. Never from a robot vendor, by the way - seriously bad idea.

Of course, you should be putting out fewer and fewer black bags these days, if you’re separating your paper and plastic into orange bags, and glass and cans into other bags for recycling.

But if you do need to buy black bags, don’t make the mistake of looking for the cheapest because as they say in Afrikaans, “goedkoop is duur koop”.

Terms such as “heavy duty" are not regulated, so one manufacturer’s “heavy duty” could be a very far cry from another’s. What you should look for is micron count. If it’s not declared, be wary.

There are three broad categories of refuse bags – budget, regular and heavy duty - there was a time when the budget bags were 18 micron, the regular 22 micron and the heavy duty 35 micron. 

You can also find extra heavy duty ones which are 40 micron.

But some bags are now a lot thinner than those traditional micron counts, so check the numbers to avoid ending up with those super thin bags that are pretty much useless.

Again, if the micron count is not declared on the packaging, take that as a warning sign.

And that’s the first show, in the bag! (okay, I stole that line from Darren Maule.)

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