Plastic bag pollution

A victory for conservation: ditching plastic bags

Some good news for conservation and environmentalists! Plastic bag use has plummeted in England since the introduction of a 5p charge in 2015, the government has said.

UK naturalist and TV presenter Steve Backshall has heralded the drop as a ‘major conservation success story’ and I completely agree. In the six months after the charge was brought in last October, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven major supermarkets in England. In 2014, the waste reduction charity Wrap estimated that the same shops had used 7.64 billion bags over the full year – if that trend were to continue this would be a drop of 83%.

Wales introduced a plastic bag charge in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. They saw reductions in bag use of 76%, 71% and 80%, respectively, in the first year after the fee. The charge means all retailers with more than 250 full-time employees have to charge a minimum of 5p to customers for single-use plastic carrier bags, in an effort to reduce their usage.

In 6 months since the charge was introduced, the government said:

  • A total of 1.1 billion single-use carrier bags were sold by large retailers who registered and reported data.
  • The net proceeds from the charge came to £41.3m, of which at least £29.2m was donated to good causes, such as environmental, education, health, arts, charity or voluntary groups.

Watch a BBC video about the environmental impact of plastic bags

Fantastic news
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said the reduction in the number of bags being used was “fantastic news”.
“It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites.” This reduction in plastic could benefit the environment, especially the oceans.
A report published in the journal Science in 2015 estimated that about 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in global waters each year, and predicted that “Unless waste management practices are improved, the flux of plastics to the oceans could increase by an order of magnitude within the next decade.”

Dr Sue Kinsey, from the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, said: “Every year we survey our beaches, and last year we found over 5,000 bags over one weekend.” She said that birds and marine mammals ate plastic, and bags were also breaking down into smaller pieces and being consumed by tiny marine organisms.
However she said that England could do more to further reduce plastic pollution. She said she wanted to see the exemption for small businesses removed. “There’s no exemption in Scotland and Wales, for instance,” she told BBC News. “If that was removed, we’d see even more plastic bags removed from the environment, which has only got to be good news.”

Only part of the problem
Andrew Pendleton from Friends of the Earth points out that plastic bags are only part of the problem and we need to focus on the “millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfill, and to oversized boxes and excess packaging” the latter of which we are continually focused on at Ethical Superstore. Find out more about our packaging here.

Find alternatives
You can find fantastic reusable shopping and storage bags right here, from handy trolley bags to jute or organic cotton shoppers in attractive patterns.

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