Denise Robertson: How can a bag for life vastly increase our chances of death?

As the Government look to introduce a charge for carrier bags, Denise Robertson ponders the health implications

A shopper with carrier bags
A shopper with carrier bags

I left the D-Day beaches at 4pm last Tuesday and was driven 300km to Paris, to catch Eurostar.

I reached London in time to get the last train out of Kings Cross and got to bed at 3am. I got up at 8am because I had a lot to do before catching the train back to London.

Once at my hotel, I tumbled into bed, determined to get a good night’s sleep before I had to get up at 6.30am to do the voiceover for the film.

Predictably I couldn’t sleep. Revisiting old battlefields doesn’t make for a quiet mind. By the time the car came for me al l I wanted to do was sit back and close my eyes.

I know the driver well. He usually tells me about his wife’s boot sale exploits or, lately, the delayed arrival of his first grandchild. Today, though, he had other news. “I just had one of them opinion formers in the car.”

I opened one eye. “He knows you.” I don’t know too many opinion formers so I opened the other eye. “What was his name?” “David Banks.”

“Oh” I said. “I know David well. We write for the same paper.”

The driver seemed impressed. When he handed me out at the studio I felt my stock was definitely enhanced. Thank you, David.

:: If the quarter of a million letters I’ve received over the years have taught me anything it is that there is no template for human happiness.

What works for you would be disastrous for me and vice versa. So I can’t agree with Kirstie Allsopp when she says “I don’t have a daughter, but if I did I’d be saying “Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”

Wrath has descended upon Kirstie from every direction but, let’s face it, nowadays there is no shortage of those thirsting to hammer anyone who voices an opinion . . .or dares to admit they haven’t yet formed one . . .so it was jolly brave of Kirstie to speak her mind.

I don’t have advice for today’s young women. If babies young is their aim it’s also their privilege. If they want a career so be it. If they can manage both, why not. I suspect that most of them will, like me, have to adapt to what life throws at them. As Allen Saunders said, long before John Lennon borrowed it, “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.”

:: A judge is being castigated because he didn’t jail a woman who fraudulently claimed £144,000 in disability benefits when she was actually holidaying around the world and engaging in sports as vigorous as water skiing.

She was claiming for 24-hour live-in care while swimming in Florida, travelling twice on the QE2, crossing America by train as well as trips to Paris, Cuba and Niagara Falls. She falsely claimed Housing and Council Tax benefits for her former home for eight years after she had moved out to live with her partner in another county.

The fraud stopped when she was caught but that took nearly twenty years. How, when I hear weekly from truly disabled people being tormented by forms and checks and medicals, did she get away with it? I’m told of payments being suspended because a tiny piece of paperwork is late or someone got muddled and missed an appointment.

Why no checks on her? Who rubber-stamped all that largesse? Sending her to prison is not the answer. The system needs overhauling.

:: I used to look from the train and see, in the distance, a tree in blossom. Alas, when the train drew near the ‘blossom’ would turn out to be plastic bags impaled on branches. Disused bags litter Britain’s coastline and damage wildlife which become entangled in them or mistake them for food.

More than eight billion disposable bags are used in England each year and they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade so for years I’ve carried my ‘long-life- bags’ back and forth from the supermarket.

Now the Government propose to impose a 5p charge which is expected to cut their use by at least three-quarters and raise millions of pounds a year for charities. I ought to be delighted but already a counter-argument is emerging.

International studies have shown that an increase in the use of “bags for life” can lead to a spike in illness rates as shoppers place new items in bags already used to store fresh meat and raw vegetables.

A ban on plastic bags in San Francisco may have increased deaths from food poisoning by over 50 per cent in a year.

Hugh Pennington, of Aberdeen University, who has chaired two major inquiries into E.coli, said it could result in “an increase in the number of cases of food poisoning”.

But, he added, packaged supermarket products should be entirely safe in re-used bags and present no threat to health.

That sounds fine but will the products be packaged in even denser plastic, making it even harder to dispose of?

In this, as in so many other things, where does right lie?


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer