Lose the Plastic Bag
The number of plastic bags given out by the nine main UK supermarket chains alone is estimated at 17.5 billion annually – enough to cover the whole of England within 21 years. With the average person in the UK getting 290 plastic bags per year, plastic bag use has reached epidemic proportions.
Plastic bags are everywhere. Pop to the shops and you’ll come back with at least one. But when they’re unpacked what do you do with them? Do you bin them, reuse them or store them in drawers filled to bursting point?
Many plastic bags are destined to end up in landfill sites, some taking up to 1,000 years to break down whilst leaching toxins into the soil and water. Or they may be incinerated, contributing to greenhouse gases and atmospheric pollution.
As well as littering our environment, plastic bags kill large numbers of wildlife every year. Birds, whales, seals and turtles often mistake them for food. Once swallowed, plastic bags choke animals or block their intestines, leading to a long, painful death. When the animals do die, the bags are released back into the sea, ready to be eaten again.
In April 2002 a Minke whale was found stranded on a beach in Normandy. In the process of trying to determine its cause of death, a stomach analysis found 800g of plastic bags and packaging. Amongst the identifiable litter was one English plastic and foil crisp packet, two English supermarket bags, seven coloured dustbin fragments, seven transparent plastic bags and one food container.
This is a worldwide problem, with Taiwan, Bangladesh, Ireland, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Italy all finding ways to deal with the environmental impact of plastic bags.
Ireland brought in a levy on plastic bags in March 2002. All shops, supermarkets, service stations and all sales outlets must charge customers 15 cents (10p) per plastic bag. There are some exemptions such as bags for non-packaged goods (ice, fruits or cooked food) and bags for life costing more than 70 cents.
Before the tax was introduced, it was estimated that retail outlets provided 1.2 billion plastic bags free of charge to customers annually. The levy has been a great success with the use of non-recyclable plastic being reduced by more than a billion and 3.5m Euro (£2.25m) earned for the new Environmental Fund, which will be spent on environmental management, litter and other green initiatives.
Some retailers have begun to take the matter into their own hands. Certain major stores have already started charging for plastic carrier bags in a number of countries. In Australia this has reduced plastic bag usage by 87%.
While we’re waiting for the Government and the retailers to get a grip on the plastic bag problem we need to take responsibility as consumers. If every shopper took just one less bag each month, this could eliminate the waste of hundreds of millions of bags each year. Reuse your old bags, keep a cloth bag with you when shopping and just say ‘NO’ to new plastic bags.