For any of us that live or just visit the countryside there are few things more depressing than seeing the amount of fly tipped rubbish and discarded plastic carrier bags clinging to trees, bushes and floating in streams and rivers.
I think our addiction to the convenience of plastic carrier bags is well shown on a BBC article in 2007 about a designer shopping bag, of which only 20,000 were produced and which said on it “I am not a plastic bag” but I have yet to see one in the flesh, so to speak.
It was after all a publicity stunt for the designer but had a message behind it we should all be listening to.
However it was not the story itself that interested me but the first selected comment at the bottom of the article: “could someone please explain why our local Sainsbury’s was placing them in an orange plastic, non environmentally friendly carrier bag after they were purchased this morning?”.
I would laugh at the irony if I wasn’t so incensed by the supermarkets utter ability to ‘not get it’.
We have all heard about one woman’s fight to make Modbury the first plastic bag free town in Britain and I take my hat off to her and the shop keepers that supported her idea.
One of the main problems is that consumers are lulled into the false belief that they are being given free carrier bags by the supermarkets … ahem. Shoppers pay for the plastic carrier bags in the price of the goods they buy, nothing is free in business and supermarkets are big business.
There is good news though about our plastic carrier bag usage, WRAP have recently reported that British retailers have exceeded the 25% voluntary reduction target for carrier bags by the end of 2008.
While our major supermarket chains are making some moves in the right direction, I am left wondering if they are doing enough. Let’s take one major supermarket whose carrier bags are recognised by all … even across the length of a field.
From 2006 all Tesco carrier bags are made from degradable plastic, that means they degrade in landfill in 18 months rather than 400 plus years .. so a vast improvement there then.
They have removed carrier bags from view, in the hope that we will not ask for a bag unless we really need one.
Most of their large stores have plastic bag recycling bins and their delivery drivers will pick up plastic bags for recycling (any plastic bags, not just their own) and their delivery service now offers a bag free delivery service.
This all sounds well and good but compare that to areas like Southern Germany or Northern France where they simply stopped issuing carrier bags. Customers are offered a free brown paper bag or they can purchase a reusable tote bag made of fabric .. reduction of plastic bag usage is 100%.
Now go back to Modbury, their solution is simple “If a trader puts any product into a bag for a customer, then that bag is not to be made from plastic.”
Here are some facts about plastic carrier bags from the Modbury website:
- A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes.
- A plastic bag can take between 500 to 1000 years to break down in the environment.
- In the UK at least 200 million plastic bags end up as litter on our beaches, streets and parks ever year.
- When a plastic bag enters the ocean it becomes a harmful piece of litter. Many marine animals mistake plastic bags for food and swallow them, with painful and often fatal consequences.
It’s really very simple, take the convenient no-thought decision away from customers and replace it with a greener alternative. Sometimes people need a push in the right direction.
If we just sit around waiting for consumers to care enough to change their shopping habits then we will be waiting a very long time, convenience is king in Britain. We need to actively change consumers habits in ways that make them feel good about their shopping practices.
If you want to go plastic bag free then here are some re-usable alternatives to plastic carrier bags:
- these are beautiful and great for local shopping trips. I’ve had mine for over 15 years now so that is about £1.00 a year, so hardly expensive and still going strong. When you buy one please check the labels to ensure they are either made in Britain or hold the fair trade mark.
Log baskets - you are only going to need one every couple of decades so why not splash out and commission your own log basket, pop it in the boot of your car and carry loose shopping in a trolley to the car, fill your basket(s) and drive home. For a cheaper alternative you can get a pair of large fair trade baskets perfect for your car boot for £24.95 from the Guardian Eco Store.
Why not buy a Turtle string bag no they’re not made from turtles but do stop sea turtles eating and choking on discarded plastic bags.
The Natural Nursery offers a selection of reusable bags as alternatives to plastic bags.
It’s really easy to change habits and find alternatives, save our countryside and just say no to plastic bags.