While the UK may be no eco-angel, it is nonetheless fairly good when it comes to environmental initiatives: a firm governmental backing of renewable energy and domestic recycling programmes are a couple of examples that spring to mind. When it comes to plastic bags, however, we are well behind other countries.
I spend quite a lot of time in the US, and one thing that constantly strikes me on my visits here is how well US businesses have done at lowering the use of plastic bags in their shops. We like to look at America as an environmental bad boy, but when it comes to the environmental plague of plastic bags, we fall far behind them. Of course there are still plastic bags issued in the US, but the majority of shops I have visited recently are giving away paper bags: Walgreen’s, Whole Foods, Crate and Barrel, Victoria’s Secret (ahem) and even Walmart – yes Walmart – have gone down the paper bag route.
In France – another country not really known for its eco-credentials – their biggest supermarket, Carrefour, now charges for plastic bags. So what’s wrong with the British retailers?
If you contact any supermarket about this matter, they will give you their usual spiel about how they are taking the plastic bag issue seriously, doing their bit, blah, blah, blah… What they really mean is they’re paying lip service, but can’t actually be bothered to tackle the problem properly.
Anyway… my reason for this post isn’t simply to have a moan (my usual reason for reaching for the keyboard), but to share a government petition that I think deserves our attention. It reads as follows:
17 billion plastic bags a year are given to British consumers. The average Briton accepts 5 times a weeks. 200 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide and 10% ends up in the ocean. When plastic bags get into the ocean they can entangle, suffocate and even kill marine animals. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks up into smaller pieces. The number of plastic bags issued by UK supermarkets in the past year has risen by 333 million. Plastic bags are becoming a big problem and there are better solutions! Instead we should have reusable cotton bags/recyclable paper bags/biodegradable starch based bags. Banish the bags and go with reusable/biodegradable ones instead! If we want to cut the amount of waste sent to landfill this is the big step forward…
These bags are menace to the planet and apart from offering meagre rewards as an incentive, UK supermarkets seem adamant on sticking to their current polices.
Ideally we should all be using reusable bags when we go shopping, but that’s not always possible, and besides, it’s unfair to place the entire obligation for this on the consumer. The retailer also has a duty here.
So assuming there will always be a necessity for retailers to provide bags, the natural alternative is for the traditional polyethylene bags to be replaced with paper ones. Now nobody can argue that the production of paper is without its own environmental impacts; but it’s much better than plastic. It doesn’t use fossil fuels to manufacture, the primary component can be gained from renewable resources and – most importantly – when discarded, the paper will biodegrade, causing far less damage to the natural environment.
So that’s it. If you’re a reader of this blog, you don’t need me to labour on about the perils of polyethylene. All you need to do is go and sign the petition and get the government to put pressure on the retailers. We live in one of the great democracies of the world… let’s use that voter power.
Sign it here. Thanks.
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