It has become a long standing practice in England for shops, particularly supermarkets, to give away free light plastic bags for their customers to take home their shopping. In the old days people had their own sturdy shopping bag, but nowadays people don’t bother – easier to pick-up a bag (or many bags!) and use that. There is no excuse for people not to take their own bags – most people actually drive to do their supermarket shopping, so they can simply put the bags in their car when they set off.
This use of plastic bags all started in the 1960s and now are a serious blight on our society (no thanks then to a Swedish guy who invented them or the Americans who first promoted their use) In general these free plastic bags are only used for about 10 minutes !(hence their nickname is ‘single use’). Almost everybody uses plastic bags (nearly 100%) – how sad is that. The supermarkets are still giving out many billions (at least 5thousand million) of bags each year!
Ah but surely this is a problem? You bet it is! We end up with millions of plastic bags in landfill and littering our streets and our parks and beaches or clogging-up drains –all bags of plastic which don’t degrade (certainly it would take hundreds of years). Plastic bags are a major danger to young children and birds, wild life,and marine life, to say nothing about the massive energy cost and oil used in producing them in the first place!
The supermarkets have made token efforts to reduce the use of such ‘temporary’ plastic bags. They all sell a ‘bag for life’ – but they are rarely used (a few people are responsibly and want to protect the environment – but the majority don’t give a jot!). Even if the supermarkets restricted customers to a single bag that would be a start (but they are too irresponsible). There was a time when small and independent shops charged for bags, but that didn’t last long – they probably gave up because the major supermarkets carried on regardless. Some supermarkets introduced ‘biodegradable’ plastic bags – but that didn’t last very long either for some reason. Some supermarkets have bins to collect used plastic bags for recycling, but they are barely used (the public can’t be bothered). Many people use their plastic bag for rubbish – so straight to the landfill unfortunately.
All the big boys are bad, but you get responsibility shown by the likes of Aldi – they charge and you will see their customers using their own bags or cardboard boxes from the store (also Aldi won the Which? Award for best UK supermarket for the past 2 years, as well as the Grocer’s Best Food Retailer award,so they must be doing things right).. M&S also brought in a charge for standard bags, but spoilt things by still giving away smaller plastic bags.
What is the answer then? I’m afraid it is down to legislation. So once again we have to depend on our wayward MPs – fat chance of anything getting done then! The best way forward is to ban such plastic bags completely (like they do for example in South Africa and China) – but no one has the guts to do that here. The easy way though is to require a charge to be made. Wales have a compulsory charge of 5 pence per bag (introduced in 2011, resulting in about a 95% drop in usage!). Scotland will be introducing such a charge in October 2013 (it is estimated that they currently use about 150 bags each person every year) and Northern Island is phasing in a scheme. So once again England is lagging behind the rest of the UK in important legislation. You see the supermarkets are a powerful force here and our MPs don’t want to upset the apple cart – they are total plonkers. The current Tory & LibDem government unbelievably reneged on a promise to take action (in favour of monitoring the situation and standing by on the sidelines as other counties make a difference).
What is really required is a 50 pence charge per bag – that would put a stop to it (but dream on). It would be realistic to invoke the 5 pence chare – but will our parliament take positive action? Well don’t hold your breath – we are likely to continue to drag our feet over reducing carrier bag usage (many other counties have also introduced legislation to reduce the use of plastic bags). Even the Grocer Magazine (the Trade periodical) is in favour of supermarkets charging for plastic bags!
Can we do anything? YES!
Write to your MP and tell him or her to do something! MPs hate to get dozens of letters about a topic – makes them very concerned about their next election result!