Kicking the Plastic Bag Habit in the UK

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.

Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • Technorati
  • Bloglines
  • Squidoo
  • Ask

7 Responses to “Kicking the Plastic Bag Habit in the UK”

  1. (22 comments.) Says:

    Hi Sally, I think the Government should bring in a law to ban the production and use of plastic bags. It wouldn’t cause anyone a problem because people would soon find an alternative to use. We didn’t use to have them so what’s the problem. We still have a willow basket that was made in my home county of Somerset many years ago (at least 30).

    What annoys me about the rubbish I observe on my travels around the local Fenland is that within 2 to 3 miles away is a Council Refuge disposal place where the public can take all their waste. From the type of rubbish I have seen its from mainly building repairs and driveway repairs. No prises for guessing who may be responsible in the East Anglian area.

    Roy Norris’s last blog post..

  2. Sally Says:

    Know what you mean about fly tipped rubbish Roy, makes me crazy when people have to drive at least 20 minutes … past the council yard … to dump their rubbish in our lane. It seems at times they view it as a day out in the country but less trouble than a picnic!!

    Yes the Government could certainly do something about our plastic bag usage but we saw what happened with their attempt at the packaging regulations, a loophole so big a herd of grazing elephants could wander through. I was in the waste industry when they came out and we all felt they had done it deliberately so they could say they tried but knew fine well they were useless in reality. Oh dear am I getting cynical?!

  3. (22 comments.) Says:

    No….., You, cynical. Surely not Sally. Whatever could have made you that.??

    Roy Norris’s last blog post..

  4. Siraj from Golf Clubs (1 comments.) Says:

    Ban plastic, cause of lots of animal died.

  5. Sam Says:

    I try not to use to many plastic bags, but I have noticed that in some smaller shops they dont ask if you want a bag - they just put your stuff in one and sometimes I have to stop them and say NO I have my own bag.

    I have a great fold up bag I keep in my handbag - its only 2″ x 2″ and opens up to the size of a plastic carrier bag and holds loads. I also keep other shopping bags in the car so when i go to the supermarket I don’t have to ask for plastic bags. Mum bought me two great bags from Waitrose which are sort of hessien type material and have really comfy padded handles - love them.

  6. Sally Says:

    Couldn’t agree more Sam, I hate it when they automatically get out a plastic bag to put one item into and don’t even ask if you want a bag. When people do ask if you want a bag it makes shoppers stop and think if they actually need one.

  7. Ste from free laptop (1 comments.) Says:

    I absolutely agree with everything you say. We have a great task ahead of us to bring people round to this way of thinking, but we need to do it.

    I’d never heard of Modbury, but hat’s off to them, that’s a fantastic achievement!

Leave a Reply