Happy Birthday to me and how you can help me celebrate!

Filed in Blog by on May 23, 2011 24 Comments
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Happy Birthday to me!

Mrs Green - 21 again.

Good morning my lovelies. Tomorrow is my Birthday and I want you to do something to help me celebrate.

If you want to see the plastic bag banned in the EU, think a tax should be levied or would simply like to see clearer information about whether a plastic carrier bag is biodegradable or compostable then you have the opportunity to make your opinions heard with the European Commission.

The European Commission is asking you how best to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. It wants to know if charging and taxation would be effective, or if other options such as an EU-level ban on plastic carrier bags would be better. Opinions will also be sought on increasing the visibility of biodegradable packaging products, and boosting the biodegradability requirements for packaging.

So many of us see things like this and think ‘that’s a great idea’ but that’s as far as it goes. Today I’m urging you to take action. I want you to take 10 minutes from your busy schedule and do something positive for the future of the environment, as a Happy Birthday to me.

As we indicated on one of our first My Zero Waste articles; “Reduce plastic carrier bags”  the average person in the UK gets through an astonishing 500 plastic carrier bags every year – most of which are used once before being landfilled or escaping into the environment as litter and if you’ve been following the site from its early days you’ll be aware that our zero waste challenge began with giving up the disposable carrier bag…

According to European Commissioner for Environment Janez Potocnik, there are around 250 billion plastic particles weighing 500 tonnes floating in the Mediterranean Sea alone. And we know the devastation plastic can cause to marine life – they can ingest particles by mistaking them for food or suffer suffocation and entanglement which leads to death.

People in favour of carrier bags argue that they are convenient; when you go on an unplanned shopping bag you NEED a disposable bag, non plastic bags leak and get wet or that customers demand them. There are those who will go so far as to say that a free bag is a ‘right’. But what about the rights of Mother Nature?

Those against them argue that disposable plastic bags cause litter, can be devastating to marine life, are a symptom of our unsustainable society and are made from a by-produce of the oil industry.

The argument I keep hearing is that shops fear a loss of sales. The thing is, if every shop in the EU has the same ruling then this is simply not going to happen! Is anyone going to seriously boycott their favourite shop because they don’t get a free plastic bag? (well maybe the ones who complain about ‘rights’ might). People also argue that the environmental impact of using disposable plastic carrier bags is so small, it’s virtually insignificant. But ya know, I just don’t buy that. If we keep using that argument then we’ll never get anything done. Let’s start small and work our way up to the big stuff.

Anyway, I have nearly 4 decades of life on planet earth to celebrate so I’ll love you and leave you.

Please read more about “Commission seeks views on reducing plastic bag use ” and then go along and take part in the “Consultation on options to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags
Some of the questions are really badly worded, but stick with it and it will take you no longer than 10 minutes; less time than we would spend in a pub having a drink together 😉

Tell me when you’ve done it in the comments below; and those who don’t will be chased by me wielding a naked cucumber.

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 (24)

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  1. Andrea says:

    My daughter works for Asda. There are times when they run out of carrier bags at the checkout and the staff dread it because some customers become abusive. It’s always the staffs fault and people actually refuse to take the shopping if the can’t put it in plastic bags. I made over twenty fabric shopping bags several years ago and keep hem in the car. I refuse plastic bags.

    Education has got to be the key to changing our habits and not enough is done to educate people about the troubles with plastic carriers. I think it should be a joint responsibility between the shop owners and the local councils. Unfortunately there will still see plastic as their right like some sort of inheritance they were born to.


  2. I was driving down the motorway with my Mum a few days ago and she was telling me about how useful it is to have the M&S stores at service stations. Then she started complaining about how ridiculous it is that they charge for carrier bags! She, along with majority of people, feel that it is the duty of of shops to provide them with free plastic bags.

    An EU level action is definitely needed so that people know that it isn’t the decision of the shop.

  3. Grandma Green says:

    Here’s an extra birthday gift from me, Mrs Green – I have completed the EU questionnaire. Happy birthday!

  4. Grandma Green says:

    @Andrea: What I find so interesting, Andrea, is your observation that some people see plastic as a right or an inheritance. As a child and young person in the 1940s and 50s, I never experienced a plastic carrier bag. Weekly shopping was done with baskets or fabric ‘shoppers’, the greengrocer packed items into brown paper bags and the butcher wrapped the meat in layers of white paper then encased it in stout brown paper. For a small shop we went to town with a carrier bag made from heavy duty brown paper with string handles. Often we wound a hankie round the handles to stop them cutting into our hands but I never remember a paper carrier breaking.

    I think the widespread use of plastic carrier bags came with the growth of supermarkets. In our area Tesco arrived in the 1960s but I remember taking my own big shopping bag there. In 1970 Sainsbury’s opened in town and I recall that from then the plastic carrier trend took hold.

    So people over the age of 40 (and there are MANY of us!) perhaps need to be reminded that we were NOT born into a plastic bag inheritance and that a return to former routines may be no bad thing.

  5. Julie Day says:

    I have done this. My suggests were to either charge customers in every shop for a plastic bag, or make every shop that gives them out have a bag bank like Sainsbury’s and make them easy to see and use. I also agreed that marking for biodegradable plastics should be distinct, as I don’t know which are and aren’t unless they say so on the packaging.

  6. Paola says:

    In Italy plastic bags have been banned since january (incredibly enough!). I had started avoiding using them long before that, but I think the ban is a great opportunity, if not the only way, to get through to the general public the message that plastic is dangerous. This is just the beginning, there are still lots of problems concerning this issue, but more and more people use reusable bags and the number of plastic bags in the environment has dropped.

  7. Paola says:

    @Paola: oops… HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

  8. JuWeL says:


    I have also completed the questionnaire. This is a great opportunity for us to hopefully influence politics in 27 (!!) countries and help them to work with us towards the zero waste goal! 🙂

    Enjoy your birthday tomorrow, Mrs. Green!

    Best wishes from Germany

  9. Tracey says:

    *Note to self – read things carefully – the threat was:
    “Those who don’t will be chased by me wielding a naked cucumber”
    “Those who don’t will be chased by me naked wielding a cucumber” 😮

    On the other hand – It’s coming up saying the survey is now closed. I’ll have a look again tomorrow. 🙁

    Hope you have a fabulous and waste-free birthday! Best wishes!
    T x

  10. KIKI says:

    I done my bit and filled out the questions on the eu website. happy birthday to you!

  11. Sue T says:

    I have just filled in the questionnaire – Happy Birthday.
    I am fed up being asked when I go to the supermarket if I require bags when I clearly have a large collection with me!! WHY DO THEY ASK?? I live in a University town and all the students seem to walk out of the supermarket with the plastic bags. I’m sure some people don’t even try to take re-useable bags with them

    I go to France a lot and they do not give out bags. When I joined one of the supermarket loyalty card scheme I was given a really nice LARGE material bag for re-use. You can even walk around the supermarket filling your bags direct.

  12. Jean says:

    Done! With vehemence!
    Even thought I plonked my wicker shopping basket on the counter in front of her, the cashier’s first instinctive action was to reach for a plastic bag. I refused it but I feel like one small voice in the wilderness.

  13. LJayne says:

    Happy Birthday for tomorrow Mrs G. Mine was last week and I’m happy to report I only got stuff that I really wanted/needed. No clutter or waste. DH has been well trained 😉

    Am happy to follow your request. I hate plastic shopping bags. These days I have a foldaway bag in E’s changing bag and one in my handbag as well. So no excuse for getting caught out anymore. I am never shopping without one or either of those.

  14. Nathalie says:

    Duly completed and reposted on facebook as well! I feel ashamed that I forgot a bag dashing in to town for a wedding outfit for son (during the hour that daughter was at Rainbows – I mean rushing!) and so had to get one. But I would have happily paid for it. And then I will use it again. and again. And again. and then some. and then put out my plastics recycling!

  15. Tracey says:

    @Tracey: Yey – it worked this time – questionnaire submitted!
    Happy birthday!

  16. Stephen says:

    Happy birthday mrs g,
    We don’t like plastic  carrier bags also, years and years ago we Bought some string bags from the amazon (Ecuador) from the Indigenous Indians, While I was working out there,I don’t no what plant fibres  their were Composed of but they have lasted 20+ years now,and we only use theses when we go shopping, They expand or contract depending on what you putting them, and you can roll them up in a small ball, and have long handles so you can put on your shoulder  and when not used put in your pocket, it’s not rocket science, Perhaps the supermarkets should provide a similar product for a price, period… governments should have in place legislation to stop supermarkets supplying plastic bags, and should supply a natural fibre product instead, like a farmers waste productsomething like straw or any fibrous material instead, (wEnvironmentally friendly), as consumers we should take responsibility for our own buying habits, and not blame everyone else for it, we  seem to think it’s our born right to have convenience at any cost.Environmental or otherwise .

  17. Sandie says:

    I’ve completed the questionnaire. Happy Birthday Rae x

  18. One Heart says:

    Happy birthday! Here in the US, my local grocery store chose not to use plastic bags last year, and instead shifted the responsibility on the consumer to bring our own bags (yay!) or we could take our food home in a recycled box. I always have fabric bags in the car for my groceries as well as ALL other shopping errands, not just food, but any items that come home with me.

  19. Andrea says:

    @Grandma Green: I am 50 and my mother went shopping every day of the week. She had a trolley, you know with the little wheels for heavy stuff and us for everything else. Market day was on Wednesday when she went up town to buy fruit and veg, she also had a visit to the library as well. We also had a man come round with a van selling fruit and veg, a “pop” van for drinks and a ilk man every day. I distinctly remember her telling me that her Grandma would have been appalled at the thought of any woman not making her own bread every week.

  20. John Costigane says:

    Happy birthday, Mrs Green. I hope the sun is shining for you, and yours, on your special day. Yesterday, the 23rd, was my late mother’s birthday and a time of reflection for her 4 sons.

    As to the survey, the idea that biodegradable bags are a cure-all is just nonsense. These bags require waste disposal, landfill or incineration, and therefore do not promote waste reduction. Another negative is the unavoidable contamination of non-biodegradable waste streams, for recycling, since the necessary purity of recyclate is compromised.

    The real alternative bag should be home compostable, allowing consumers to have a Zero Waste outcome at home. In the meantime, fabric bags are infinitely reusable (my exclusive choice) and quality reusable plastic bags (from supermarkets) provide better options.

  21. Penny says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mrs Green I completed the questionaire for your pressie hope it helps I only occasionally have a plastic carrier mostly when the shopping I have bought has been shoved into one before I get to the other end of the checkout but I do recycle them at my local asda

  22. Sue C says:

    Done! Happy Birthday! Didn’t even take 10 minutes.

  23. You’ll be relieved to hear that you don’t have to chase up to suffolk with your cucumber. Hope you’re having a super birthday Mrs G ;0) x

  24. Sandy says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, have a great day, I have filled in the questionaire

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