‘Are we supposed to be keeping those?’ someone at work asks me, pointing to a little pot full of yellow and green plastic tags sitting on my desk.
‘No,’ I say, ‘But I’m trying to collect them.’
These tags are from the new boxes that the shop’s deliveries come in. Goodbye cardboard and tape, hello blue plastic totes.
Gritting my teeth, I prepare for the inevitable follow-up question: ‘Why?’
I’m going to be deliberately vague; I don’t feel like explaining myself in too much detail on this particular day. ‘Just to see how many I can get,’ I say.
Every tote has four tags. On average, we receive forty totes a day, five days a week; more at Christmas. That’s eight hundred little inch-long plastic tags a week. And there are three hundred stores in the company I work for. The math on that one is pretty scary: 240,000 each week. Or 12,480,000 in a year; twelve million, four hundred and eighty thousand. I can’t help but wonder where on earth they’re all going to go.
People put them in the bin or in the little collecting pot I’ve got going. They get spread across the floor, both in the stockroom and in the shop, where they get in the way of book trolleys, prams and pushchairs. Or they get thrown back into the bottom of the totes they’ve come from in the first place.
As the weeks go by the totes coming into the store develop a layer of plastic tags along the bottom, damaging the books that have been thrown in on top, sticking between the pages. I picture the day when I’ll open a tote to find it full of just these plastic tags, and not a book in sight.
What a strange system to have devised. The company’s new ‘Hub’ – a central warehouse where all publishers deliver orders to be sorted, repackaged and sent out to stores in one bulk delivery – is supposed to streamline the business. There is less cardboard coming into the store, sure, but that’s only because it all goes to the Hub instead. And it’s quite likely that there is less road mileage, as each publisher makes one delivery to the Hub rather than delivering direct to three hundred stores. That can only be a good thing. But all these plastic tags? What a classic example of corporate business failing to see the bigger picture.