“I am convinced that we can eliminate single-use disposable bags altogether, in favour of long-lasting and more sustainable alternatives”-Prime Minister Brown

Although this sounds quite good, it does pose the question, what, exactly, is a “single-use disposable bag”? By usage, it seems to refer to free plastic bags you get from supermarkets. Many dog owners might dispute the concept that these bags are single use, and I myself quite like them for putting trainers in after a game of football.

I also used a plastic bag to keep the saddle of by bike dry when I had to leave it out in rain. It is, however, an indisputable fact that the majority of plastic bags obtained from the various supermarkets across the world do end up being thrown away once used to take the shopping home. What then is the overall effect of this waste?

Less that 0.03% of all the waste that goes into a landfill comes from plastic bags, so one might be forgiven for asking why this should be such a central element of the Government’s environmentally themed speeches.

I have tried the majority of the alternatives to the plastic bag. So far, I have generally felt that most of them are inadequate. The trusty backpack was used until a packet of Chicken Tikka Massala sauce leaked all over its insides. To this day, almost a year later, the bag still smells of stale curry.

I have bought quite a few of the re-usable green bags, and have found them brilliant for taking glass to the bottle bank, they do however tend to retain the smells of whatever you put into them. Invariably, however, one rarely remembers to bring them shopping and ends up using the oh-so-conveniently positioned disposables, warranting disapproving looks from environmentally-friendly lookers-on.

I find it rather irksome that I should be treated like I have personally poured a 50-gallon drum of DDT into the river Cherwell. The elderly, in particular, tend to chide one about not doing their bit for the environment. That seams rather hypocritical as the amount of CO2 released by them driving to the shop would be worth nearly my volume in shopping bags. That this is missing from their distorted perspective of reality does not seem so surprising.

Going back to the age of fossils, why not offer paper bags instead of plastic ones? Well, for a start plastic bags take 40% less energy to make and release 70% fewer atmospheric emissions, and as only ~5% of the UK’s energy comes from renewable sources, this would have a much greater detrimental effect on the globes atmosphere. They would also create 5 times the volume of waste.

As there is a considerable paucity of composting heaps in household gardens, it seems likely that this waste would end up in the landfills all the same and thereby circumvent the supposed reduction in waste volume. They are also less popular with the consumer due to the propensity for breaking, spilling the shopping all over the path. The only real advantage is that they will decompose in a relatively short period of time.

This being said, I do fully support efforts to reduce the usage of plastic bags for ecological rather than atmospheric reasons. A colossal amount of plastic, especially from plastic bags, find its way to the seas of the world. According the United Nations Environment Programme, there are 46,000 pieces of plastic rubbish per square mile. This is thought to lead to more that a million birds and 100,000 marine animals, such as turtles, dying each year due to eating, or getting entangled in, plastic.

The imposition of a tax of approximately 22 cents upon each plastic bag used in the Republic of Ireland has led to a reduction of almost 90% in the last 5 years. Surely, an imposition of a similar system in the UK would do wonders in reducing the wasteful use of plastic bags. I would be willing to pay 10 pence for each bag, so long as society doesn’t make me a pariah for daring to be forgetful.

by Stephan Elschenbroich


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