Do it for the money, if not for the planet

Plastic has become the dirty word of 2018 as it seems that the message that the planet is suffering thanks to the use of the stuff is making its way into the mass social conscience. Of course everyone has known for years that the miracle material of the 20th century is now strangling marine life in the oceans, due to its inconvenient reluctance to decompose. For years we've been seeing the documentaries and the incredible photos taken underwater and from the air; we've tutted and agreed that something has to be done, and then nipped down to the supermarket for a plastic bag full of plastic packages, vowing to use the yellow bin later. Now though it seems that the general public is starting to act in more ways than simple following recycling guidelines.

In the last few months we've had news about beach clean-ups, plastic-free alternatives to everything from toothbrushes to drinking straws and campaigns for suppliers to stop wrapping up products unnecessarily in plastic.

And, of course, plastic bags are no longer free. Laws obliging stores to charge for bags are helping but not quickly enough. A visit to the local supermarket shows that, however much we mean well, picking up a reusable bag before we leave home is a good intention, but still not an automatic one, and we end up paying for yet another of those horrible plastic things. It will take at least until 2021 for Spain to ban them completely.

A recent visit to the UK proved that things there are moving in the right direction; I found more people have the habit of not leaving home without a "just-in-case" shopping bag. Here in Spain, fortunately, using a shopping trolley - the ultimate back and effort saver -has never gone out of practice, but more public awareness campaigns wouldn't go amiss. Only the other day I witnessed a woman get angry about having to pay for a plastic bag in a pharmacy; she walked out in a huff saying she would never be going there again.

A recent visit to Germany, meanwhile, showed that some countries are way ahead. There were no plastic bags in the supermarkets; you take your own, buy a reusable bag or use brown paper ones, which, I was assured, are stronger than you would think.

Of course the financial incentive is in the end the most effective one; Germany, and I suspect other northern European countries that I have not had the pleasure to visit this summer, is already dealing with that one.

You get more than a sense of self-satisfaction there when to take your plastic bottles and drinks cans to the recycling bins in Lidl, Aldi or the likes - you get 25 cents off your shopping for each one! It's just like with the cream soda and dandelion and burdock bottles we used to take back to the Co-op when we were kids! Everything comes round again - especially when it involves common sense.

Now we just need the woman in the pharmacy - along with a few of the world's most powerful governments - to get the message.