Nationwide (and even Jerseywide!) rejection of the bags, which take up to 1,000 years to decompose and clog drains and pollute oceans, followed a government challenge to retailers to voluntarily halve bag use by June 2009.
It began in 2007 with a few traders in the small town of Modbury in Devon refusing to give out plastic bags. But recently their small green revolution reached a national milestone: British shoppers have nearly halved the number of single-use bags they get through.
Figures from Wrap, the government's waste and resources programme, show that whereas 870m single-use plastic bags were handed out in the UK in May 2006, the figure for May 2009 was down to 450m – a 48% reduction.
That is quite a large shift in public behaviour. I always argue that, although the total amount of waste avoided by not using poly-bags is not that huge in relation to the mountains of other stuff that people use once and chuck away, initiatives like this have a much larger effect on the way people think and feel about the subject. Once people are used to not throwing away bags, and that they have to supply their own method of carrying purchases, I am sure that it plants a growing seed that has far greater effects on their perceptions of, and willingness to "do", sustainable behaviour than the raw tonnage of plastic waste avoided would seem to suggest.
In short, I think projects like this start a snowball, or avalanche effect, and make further environmentally friendly purchasing and behaviour decisions more likely to spread at an ever increasing speed.