Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Plastic bags - going, going - not quite gone yet

Plastic bag use has almost halved in the UK!

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.

click for link to an article with more about the fall in bag use



Denier said...

But, how many more black plastic sacks are being sold instead? :)

Nick Palmer said...

I haven't noticed anyone taking black bags into the supermarkets recently... I suppose you may be referring to the fact that many people used to use the polybags to line their kitchen rubbish bins. I suppose some may now be buying special bags for this purpose but, realistically, polybags used to build up (or get thrown away) far faster than they ever got "re-purposed" so the net effect is likely to be fewer bags used and less plastic disposed of.

Besides, if people have to pay for something, they usually treat it better than something they get for free and may make more of an effort to avoid the type of wasteful behaviour that necessitates buying something to deal with the resultant waste.

Environ Mental said...

It's just peeing in the wind though isn't it? Just think how much more plastic is in one cola/water bottle compared to a dozen thin bags...!

Nick Palmer said...

By "peeing in the wind" I assume you mean the "it's just a drop in the ocean argument"? Well, consider that the ocean is made of drops - pay enough attention to enough drops and you have a whole different ocean at the end of it.

Environ mental wrote (surely this name nails his/her colours to the mast?):

"Just think how much more plastic is in one cola/water bottle compared to a dozen thin bags...!"

You think that the move towards sustainability will stop at plastic bags? HaHaHa! Probably the next move that surfaces will indeed target plastic water bottles.

The Jersey "Stop the Drop" initiative, which is run by a very proper ex-magistrate society type, just had a meeting very recently at which they announced that their strategy included targeting disposable drinks bottles.

Behind the scenes, loads of manufacturers are re-evaluating their packing and transport methods. Look at this link to see just a little of what is happening.

These things are like snowballs/avalanches down a mountain - they start off small but rapidly get bigger until they overwhelm everything before them.

Hop on board the sustainability train or you might get left at the station buried in the avalanche!