Should we ban the plastic bag?

Filed in Blog by on June 29, 2009 8 Comments
FavoriteLoadingAdd article to favourites
Should we make a charge or ban the disposable plastic carrier bag?

Should we make a charge or ban the disposable plastic carrier bag?

What a great discussion on the Bob Walmsley show this afternoon. Bob, from Radio Northampton asked his listeners, whether we should ban the plastic bag.

As you might imagine, it was quite a lively debate with all sorts of opinions!

If you want to listen in, you can ‘listen again’ on the right hand side of the Radio Northampton website, but you might not be able to do that until this evening when the programme is archived.

For the plastic bag

Those in favour of the disposable plastic carrier bags argue:

  • Plastic bags are convenient
  • If you’re spending money in a shop you expect something back
  • Customers demand them
  • There are instances, such as an unplanned shopping trip when you NEED a disposable plastic bag
  • Non plastic bags leak and get wet in the rain

Against the plastic bag

Those against disposable plastic carrier bags say

  • They cause litter
  • They can be devastating to marine life
  • The are a symptom of our unsustainable society
  • They are made from a by product of the oil industry
  • Using your own reusable shopping bags is such a simple lifestyle change to make

British retail consortium

Bob interviewed Richard Thompson from the British Retail Consortium who argued that the environmental impact of using disposable plastic carrier bags is so small, it’s virtually insignificant. In addition, he commented that customers demanded them and there were some ’emergency’ situations, for example, unplanned visits to the shops, where a plastic carrier bag was necessary.

Next up was Richard Dodd, a marine biologist from the University of Plymouth. He told us about some of the effects of disposable plastic carrier bags on marine life. He pointed out that many products are over packaged anyway and that we should promote a change in behaviour rather than an outright ban. I expected him to be more outspoken, but he was very balanced in his view and gave me a lot to think about.


After this, various listeners phoned in, each with their own views on the convenience of the plastic carrier bag. One listener, Lynne said that plastic carrier bags were handy and waterproof and she needed them because she used a bus to go shopping.

Another, Laura, uses disposable plastic carrier bags all the time and she objects to paying for them. To quote “I don’t give a monkeys” about the environmental impact and she takes home her bags and throws them in the bin.


On the pro side of charging for or banning plastic bags was Clare, the founder of the wonderful ‘Morsbags‘ site. As she pointed out, Morsbags can be washed if anything leaks onto them, they are strong (much stronger than disposable plastic carrier bags) and if you want to, you can make your own morsbag and spray them with waterproofing – I hadn’t thought of that, and it’s a great point!

Cali, from Friends of the Earth pointed out that it is so wasteful to make a resource and then throw it away.

Ground work

A very interesting call came from Nicki who is involved with Ground Work North allotment project. They receive funding to make raised beds in a local allotment for use by minority groups. Where does that funding come from? The sale of Marks and Spencer plastic carrier bags! And who would deny funding for such a worthwhile project?

As you might have guessed, here at zero waste towers, we are pro a charge or an outright ban on once-use plastic carrier bags. Unfortunately I didn’t get much time to speak, but the upside to that is the amount of interest in the topic, with many people calling in to share their opinions.


Banning the plastic carrier bag will always be a challenging issue. There are those who want the convenience and expect something for nothing. There are those who will say that a free bag is a ‘right’.

But for us it feels good to look at the rights of our children to a healthy future and the rights of wildlife for a safe life.

We talk about our rights as consumers and householders, but we never talk about the ‘rights’ of the environment.

Of course, it won’t actually be the environment who suffers in the long term. Nature always strives towards and achieves balance. It might just mean that our journey on the planet is more uncomfortable in the meantime. And then, maybe, we’ll be brave enough to take a step such as banning the plastic bag.

If you want to ‘do your bit’, then don’t forget to visit our shop, where you’ll find exclusive reusable shopping bags for sale which are washable, waterproof and strong!

Tags: ,

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (8)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Layla says:

    lol I’d charge for them or have ’em banned too!! πŸ™‚

    not so sure about waterproofing – depends on techniques used! /some sprays have very iffy chemicals!!/
    I wonder how they did it in old times, with wax or such?

    I’d ban the throwaway flimsy free bags that get torn the minute you walk out the store!
    If anyone wants to buy one it should cost at least 2 EUR! πŸ˜‰

    okay, even 10cents would stop some people from overloading on them!

    & if ‘Laura’ is any indicator – seems most people do have a conscience, just a tiny percent don’t?
    Or was she paid by the plastic industry? hmm..

  2. Carole says:

    I have a smallish cream cotton bag (a freebie with a t-shirt I bought at the Royal Cornwall Show a couple of years ago), which has Cornwall printed on it. It’s about 38cm square and it rolls up very small and hides in the bottom of my handbag. It’s my “emergency bag” and it has helped me out of a “needing a plastic bag” situation more times than I care to imagine.

    Even if you don’t have a re-usable bag that rolls up so small, a plastic bag can be recycled in this way too. This pretty much blows the emergency bag out of the water.

    As for, if you’re spending money you expect something back. What a pile of tosh. Non plastic bags leak and get wet in the rain??? What on earth are you carrying that’s going to leak?? Anything “leaky” is going to be pre-packed in more plastic. As for getting wet in the rain? So??

    Words truly fail me.

  3. John Costigane says:

    HI Mrs Green,

    Plastic bags are redundant in my Zero Waste approach. Banning them would sort the problem for everyone, with better alternatives made available in the transition period.

  4. Good interview Mrs G and I really like the approach of the presenter. I would love to see the govt banning the plastic bag, but I also think the move needs to come from retailers encouraging consumers to reuse, which is what is happening in many areas – even the local market.

    If this happens in the next couple of years that would be a wonderful outcome. I fear that a direct ban sooner than that would have the adverse reaction, mainly fuelling anti-green feelings, which would impact on the wider agenda and other behavioural changes that are needed to reduce the amount of waste that is created.

    Reducing consumer waste is becoming to feel like a chess tournament. A strategic game taking many different turns and learning all the time. The bags resemble the pawns – with so many in their number. Once those are down, it’ll be time to tackle the big guys.

    Anyway…that’s me off on one…great interview and keep up the fab work πŸ˜€ x

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @Layla: Hi Layla, yes I wanted to say to not charge 15 pence for them, but to charge 15 POUNDS LOL! it was a good phone in, helped all the more by the fact the presenter was very pro the idea of banning the bag.

    @John Costigane: I agree, John. I don’t think it would be a difficult thing to do at all. To be honest, I cannot think of a good reason why the ban has not happened already.

    @Almost Mrs Average: You are more balanced than me, Mrs A on this matter LOL! Objectively though, yes, no point in making enemies; better to bring about a gradual change and help people to succeed and come on board with the idea.

  6. Sarah says:

    @Layla: Wax would work, as would making the bag from recycled water resistant fabric like shower curtaining.

    What did we all do before the plastic bag? We still went shopping and we still got things home. We’d all cope fine without them, it’d take a bit of time for some people to get used to it but we’d cope. I’m with John@John Costigane: Ban them and then people would be forced to cope and supermarkets would be forced to find alternatives.

  7. Carole says:

    @Mrs Green: My re-Sackel bag turned up today! Thank you! It’s already been used once.

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Sarah: Yay! Go you; I agree πŸ™‚

    @Carole: You’re welcome Carole; glad it’s been put to good use already!

Leave a Reply