The Shopping Bag Shortage: A Micro of Bigger Problems

Veronica Fernandez

A hard currency (CUC) shop in Havana. Photo: Caridad

For months I’ve been hearing lots of people in the street commenting about the situation with shopping bags.

Everyone seems to agree that every time they go to buy something in one of stores that only accept hard currency CUCs (freely convertible Cuban currency), the employees always tell them that they don’t have bags on hand to bag their purchases.

Not only is this considered a tremendous lack of respect, but it comes on top of the fact that they sell things at prices so high that they’re inaccessible to the majority of the population.  Yet it seems that now they’re not offering the possibility of wrapping up the purchases when this is part of the purchase; it is part of offering a complete product with dignity and quality.

On occasion, perhaps, one won’t take note of this situation if the customer is buying a small object — like a can of deodorant or a small bottle of cologne — which they can easily carry away in their hand or pocket.  But what is now catching people’s attention is when they buy groceries like meat, or other “fresh” foods (though this is often a misnomer).

The problem is that it’s practically impossible to carry a package of frozen chicken or whatever in your hand all the way to your house.  This is especially true when keeping in mind the unstable distribution of the market and the fact that usually what is sought is not near our place of residence, and therefore we have to catch a packed bus after a long wait and then walk.

In my case, this resembles nothing less than torture.  I have to hold a frozen package from the Carlos III shopping center in the Centro Havana municipality until I get to Cojimar, on the other side of Havana Bay.

I myself was able to confirm what I was hearing day-after-day in the streets of Havana in relation to the disappearance of plastic bags from stores.  In fact, it is one of the many experiences that are making me question and think about a lot of things.

Notwithstanding all this, walking around anywhere in Havana I find can find different people outside of produce markets selling those same plastic bags.  So what’s the problem with the purported nonexistence of these bags in stores?  Is there a way for me to alert someone of the situation?

This evidences a complete lack of administration, little respect for the public, disorganization, and especially a lack of pressure being exerted by these entities and a limitless un-control that is bringing about uneasiness and discouragement among people.

Some people might shrug off and trivialize this situation by saying who cares if they do or don’t have plastic bags in stores if there are in fact other more important matters to deal with, and therefore implying that we should remain deaf and dumb?

However I would ask them: if we’re unable to solve such elementary issues, how are we going to solve the rest of the problems facing us?

One thought on “The Shopping Bag Shortage: A Micro of Bigger Problems

  • Interesting post. In the UK and Europe we are actively discouraged from asking for plastic bags in shops. There are initiatives in place by law to reduce the amount of plastic waste caused by these bags. Instead we are sold reusable carriers or take our own shopping bags and baskets to the shops.

    It might be that you feel cheated by this perceived lack of service from your expensive shops but you should perhaps look at a broader environmental picture and simply take a bag with you.

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