The poor old plastic carrier bag eh? All it tries to do is offer us its services by helping us carry things and all it gets as thanks is a lot of people wanting to ban it from our lives.
How many plastic carrier bags do we get through in the UK?
The amount of plastic carrier bags given out by supermarkets amounts to a whopping 17½ billion per year. The average family accumulates 60 bags in four trips to the store.
The amount of petrol used to make these bags is enough to drive a car 2.1 billion miles or nearly 54,000 times round the world; yet only one in every 200 plastic carrier bags is recycled.
Why are plastic bags so bad for the environment?
A plastic carrier bag will take up to 1000 years to break down once it is in the landfill. Compare that to its useful life which can be measured in minutes – the length of time it takes to get our shopping home from the store before being dumped in the dustbin.
Some bags end up in the sea; either through deliberate litter or air borne from the landfill. Out at sea, plastic carrier bags pose great danger to marine life. Globally, an estimated one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from entanglement in, or ingestion of, plastics.
A shocking story reveals that a Minke whale stranded on a beach in Normandy was found to have 800g of plastic bags and packaging within its stomach. Amongst the identifiable litter were 1 English plastic and foil crisp packet, 2 English supermarket bags, 7 coloured dustbin fragments, 7 transparent plastic bags and 1 food container.
Other bags end up clogging drains which can cause flooding and create a breeding ground for disease.
What can be done?
At least 40 countries or states are now known to have banned plastic carrier bags or taken action to restrict their use.
Since March 2002 Ireland has reduced its checkout plastic bag use by 90%.
A year ago, B&Q, which had been giving out 7m carrier bags a year in Scotland, introduced a 5p-per-bag charge in Scottish stores that may be adopted UK-wide. The result? An 82% fall in consumption, and a cash windfall for Keep Scotland Beautiful. Significantly, 70% of customers are “very happy” with the scheme, with only 1.8% “very unhappy”. M&S have followed suit.
Back in April of 2007, Mobury in Devon was the first town to be ‘plastic bag free’. Since then the idea has spread across the UK and now there is talk of banning the plastic bag altogether.
In 2007, Gordon Brown was reported as saying “I am convinced that we can eliminate single-use plastic bags altogether in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives.”
What can I do to reduce the amount of plastic bags I send to landfill?
There are many things you can do to reduce the amount of plastic carrier bags you use. Here are our 8 top tips:
The easiest is to reuse your carrier bags. When you get home, instead of binning them, put them back into your car or bag for the next shopping trip. You can reuse them several times. Some supermarkets, such as Tesco offer reward points for every bag you reuse.
2- A bag is for life
Instead of using disposable plastic carrier bags, buy a ‘bag for life’ which are available at most supermarkets. These last for around 10 shopping trips. When it wears out the cashier will replace it free of charge and the old one will be recycled by the supermarket.
3- Return to sender
Most supermarkets have a collection bin for carrier bags. If you don’t want your carrier bags anymore, put them in the recycling bin. If you have home delivery, your driver will take them back to the store for you.
Donate your carrier bags to a charity shop or local independent retailer. Packaging costs money and these shops will be pleased to use your bags for other customers.
5- Go natural
Better still, do away with plastic altogether as they all eventually break down and end up in the landfill. Opt for a natural fabric bag such as cotton or jute. Look out for future competitions to win a reusable bag of your own! If you’re handy with a needle and thread, then why not make your own Morsbag?
6- the old ways are the best ways
Old fashioned whicker shopping baskets are natural, biodegradable and very strong. They last for years and will hold your heavy shopping without tipping things over.
7- Box it up
Keep a couple of cardboard boxes in the car so that you are never caught without something to put your shopping in.
8- Be a trolley dolly
The shopping trolley is back and it’s cool, funky and a must-have fashion accessory! Forget images of your granny with her brown PVC, Natural Collection, winner of the Observer Ethical Awards for an amazing THREE years in a row, boast the first non-PVC trolley. This trolley was voted BEST BUY in the Independent newspapers 10 Best Shopping Trolleys in April 2008.
9- A Shameless plug and a hearty Yay!
Our favourite reusable bags are the Onya bag and Doy bags. Onya bags are made from recycled parachutes. These bags fold up into a tiny pouch and weigh just 50g. They come with a caribiner clip for you to attach to your belt loop, car keys or bag. These mean that they are always ‘onya’ and you never forget them!
Doy bags are made by a women’s co-operative in the Philippines from recycled tetrapak juice cartons. Not only are they recycled, but they’re fair trade too. They’re bright, fun and will get you noticed!
My thanks go to Dan from Onya bags for giving me help with the statistics for this article.