Don’t Blame Older People for the Planet

Imagine being accused of ruining your planet. That’s what happened to my Nan’s friend Lynette, aged seventy-something, at a grocery store checkout.

You see, Lynette hadn’t brought any bags with her to the store. When she asked for some plastic ones to help her get the items home, the checkout-girl told her a bit more than company policy. It went something like this:

“You’re not thinking about the environment! It’s people like you who don’t bring bags who are ruining it for the rest of us. Your generation has destroyed the planet!”

Uh-oh. We’ve strayed into Battlefield Generation Stereotype, where Plastic Bag Hags roam the earth. You might have heard about the ban on single-use shopping bags in Australia’s major grocery stores that’s been in place since 2018. The ban was based on the idea that people are capable of bringing their own re-usable shopping bags and was the result of a nationwide campaign against plastic waste.

For some reason I have a mental image of an old man grumbling about the loss of warm, fuzzy, familiar plastic bags. The ban did disgruntle some customers, but in reality, complainers were of all ages.

There were thefts, assaults, and Twitter witticisms in response to the bag ban — but few of these were by the elderly!

I doubt this man was stealing trolleys when plastic bags were banned in 2018! Image by Maggie Koussa, Greenpeace. I found it here.

It’s understandable that Lynette did not like being grouped with an imaginary army of grey-haired anti-Gretas. She told the checkout-girl that when she was young there used to be something called a milk bottle, which Lynette would return to the milkman when it was empty. Shopkeepers would wrap goods in brown paper, which people re-used in many ways. People used cloth nappies, hand-washed their clothes, ate local seasonal produce, and walked places more. Lynette knew all about waste-free living, thank you!

A Baby Boomer Shares What Plastic Meant in the 70s

I’m 22, and what interests me about Lynette’s story is that she has lived through the changes that have led to today’s wasteful norms. She’s been the frog in hot water for longer than most of us. What could she share about people’s changing attitudes to the environment?

I didn’t ask Lynette, but a Baby Boomer told me why he used to throw plastic sandwich wrappers out car windows when he was young. Everyone did, apparently.

“Why take garbage home when you can throw it out the window? That was the attitude,” he explains.

“I saw no problem with plastic in the world. If someone said to me, “You know, that cup you’re putting on the side of the road will end up in a whale one day,” I’d have asked them what they’d been drinking!”

“Now, when you see turtles with straws up their noses, that drives it home and you get a different understanding.”

Later, he worked on cutting-edge tech that compressed plastic into tiny cubes for waste disposal. The sales pitch? It was cheaper to transport cubed waste. Issues like fossil fuels and landfill carried little currency back then.

“If that project were before me today my only line for selling it would be how good it is for the environment. Whereas 20 years ago, it’d be all about cutting cost.”

It’s About Awareness, Not Blame

So is it’s the retirees’ fault, then! The thing is, that man is an open-minded lover of innovation and new ideas who is now actively supporting environmental initiatives. I believe most people out there are articulate, with helpful perspectives on sustainability, as can be seen in the comments below this inflammatory blog post.

Ick. How relieved was I to read the comments! It’s far more helpful to understand where each individual is coming from, and learn from their experiences, in this time of social change.

Lynette’s checkout-girl shouldn’t get age-hate either. She sounds like a keen bean, who was probably sick of disgruntled responses to what she saw as common-sense. She sounds like me.

All the same, I hope she gave Lynette a free re-useable bag and lovingly directed her to the bulk food store.

Photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash

I’m a fan of new perspectives, and hilarity. And birds. I hope my writing makes your day a bit weirder.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store