By Dmitri Prieto

 The issue even made it to the television comedy program Deja que yo te cuente, where Profesor Mentepollo criticized the trafficking of plastic bags.
The issue even made it to the television comedy program Deja que yo te cuente, where Profesor Mentepollo criticized the trafficking of plastic bags.

One of the things that most impressed me about Great Britain was the way that different social actors (supermarket chains, the State, NGOs) take advantage of and promote environmentalism in small aspects of the public’s lifestyle habits, for example the use of plastic bags.

Supermarkets in Great Britain, such as TESCO, promoted the gradual replacement of plastic bags with longer lasting substitutes by rewarding the consumer monetarily or with points for using more ecologically friendly bags (green bags) instead of the traditional plastic bags.

In Cuba, the idea to substitute these bags has never seriously been discussed.  Instead, recent conversations surrounding plastic shopping bags have been about the right of the client to receive one when purchasing merchandise.

After several citizens complained in letters to local newspapers about not receiving a plastic bag after shopping, TV reporters set out to investigate the black market buying and selling of plastic bags.  An activity at times supported by the supermarket tellers or supervisors themselves.

The issue even made it to the television comedy program Deja que yo te cuente, where Profesor Mentepollo criticized the trafficking of plastic bags.  What is interesting is that in this case the issue also poked fun over the environmental argument that plastic bags are harmful.  In the skit, the plastic bag thieves were collaborating with environmentalists.

It made me ask myself how is it that in one case we have a genuine movement towards the elimination of the massive use of plastic bags while in the other case the environmental issue only comes up as a comedic device.

I believe that outside of the problem of the theft and illegal traffic of plastic bags, we Cubans are not very inclined to accept the radical need to change our lifestyles in order to save the planet.

In many cases, environmentalism is merely rhetoric: something used in propaganda or because it is fashionable.  This may also be the case in Europe.  But what is left to see is what role will difficulties in Cuba play in overturning current attitudes to turn the issue into one that is taken seriously.


Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

One thought on “Plastic Bags & Cuban Lifestyles

  • Here in Israel, despite a growing consciousness of the need for recycling (with newspapers and plastic and glass bottles, at least), there is still not much awareness of the plastic bag problem. Unfortunately, the plastic bags we get from the grocery store are useful to us for garbage disposal; therefore, there is some reluctance to give them up. If these bags were replaced (by the grocery stores themselves) with a biodegradable alternative, this would be a step in the right direction. But that requires some expensive investment, both financially and politically, no matter what country we’re talking about.

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