Sophie Tarr and Lauren Day surveyed an inner-city Helsinki store at lunchtime. Here are their findings.
In Finland, price certainly has had an impact on the numbers of plastic bags used – or at least that’s what we found in our survey of the K-Market store in Kamppi, a popular shopping centre in downtown Helsinki with its own metro and bus stations.
K-Market is a medium-sized supermarket chain found throughout Finland, with at least 370 outlets. Like other chains in Finland, it charges customers for its bags, which are available at the checkout – customers select the bag, then place it on the conveyor belt to be swiped through along with the rest of their purchases.
Bags that can be bought at the checkout include paper bags, calico bags, reusable bags similar to the green bags available in Australian supermarkets, and biodegradable plastic bags. By far the most commonly bought are non-biodegradable plastic bags. These cost 15 euro cents and are slightly larger and of much thicker plastic than the plastic bags typically available in Australia, so it is common for Finns to use these bags repeatedly.
(The plastic bag habits of Finns have even made their way into the “You know you’ve been in Finland too long when …” lists that do the rounds online. For example: “You know you’ve been in Finland too long when you rummage through your plastic bag collection to see which ones you should keep to take to the store and which can be sacrificed to garbage.”)
The only bags the supermarket provides free are small, thin “single-use” bags much like those available in the fruit and vegetable section of Australian supermarkets. These are available after checkout and are marked with an asterisk. Checkout workers will rarely, if ever, offer free bags or try to sell those bags available for purchase. Customers pack their groceries themselves.
The K-Market customers were observed on a Tuesday at lunch time. Many appeared to be on a break from work, and many bought only a few small items.
Of 50 customers, 24 used no plastic bags. Between them, the rest bought 30 larger plastic bags and about 11 of the smaller free ones. More Finns than Australians brought old plastic bags and their own bags. Only six bought green bags.
Occupation: International student (from Cameroun)
When you go grocery shopping, do you usually buy a bag at the grocery store or bring one with you? I buy them here.
When you do buy bags, do you reuse them? How? No.
What do you think of the fact that Finnish supermarkets charge for plastic bags? I don’t know – in Africa we don’t pay for bags, so they give them out. But if you have money, you ought to pay.
When you go grocery shopping, do you usually buy a bag at the grocery store or bring one with you? Well, I usually have this. The calico bag? Yes. But if I don’t have it with me, I might buy a plastic bag – or [another calico bag]; it’s 60c.
When you do buy bags, do you reuse them? How? Yes, for garbage.
What do you think of the fact that Finnish supermarkets charge for plastic bags? Well, it costs to make them, it’s not free, so you have to pay something. I don’t think it’s that expensive but I don’t buy them a lot, so I don’t know.
Is reducing plastic bag consumption important, do you think? Yes, I do. This [her own bag] lasts longer, and looks nicer, so!
Occupation: Office manager
When you go grocery shopping, do you usually buy a bag at the grocery store or bring one with you? I bring my own.
What do you think of the fact that Finnish supermarkets charge for plastic bags? The plastic bags, they are good for the nature, I have heard. I don’t know if it’s true, but I have heard that.
Is reducing plastic bag consumption important? No, I don’t think so.