From October 2015 shoppers in England will be charged a minimum of 5p for a plastic carrier bag so what are the eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bags that will save you money in the long run?
At long last the plastic carrier bag charge will be in introduced in England in October 2015. I'm really pleased that this is happening as I get so frustrated when walking down a shopping street to see people carrying numerous plastic carrier bags. It upsets me to think of so many of these bags ending up in landfill or, even worse, the sea. For several years now I've tried to always carry reusable shopping bags and annoyed with myself when I forget them. Only if there's absolutely no way I can carry my purchases in my hands and pockets will I then accept a plastic bag. But even then I'm amazed at how many plastic bags we seem to have accumulated in our house.
In 2013, supermarkets gave out over 8 billion single-use carrier bags across the UK. That is nearly 130 bags per person. This equates to about 57,000 tonnes of single-use carrier bags in total over the year.
Although carrier bags contain 70% less plastic than 20 years ago, most are still made from polyethylene which is non-degradable. This kind of plastic takes a long time to break down, possibly up to hundreds of years. Next time you go for a walk whether in a city or the country count how many plastic bags you see littering the landscape. I think you’ll be surprised at how many there are. If you think nothing of taking a plastic bag from a shop, then maybe this infographic will change your mind when you see how plastic affects our environment.
They consume resources, including oil, in their creation. Even when disposed of responsibly, plastic bags can last for long periods of time in landfill sites.
What is the plastic bag charge?
Large retailers in England will be required to charge a minimum of 5p per single-use carrier bag issued from 5 October 2015. There is already a similar 5p charge on single-use bags in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales they’ve been charging for carrier bags since October 2011 and this has seen a reduction of up to 96% in the use of single-use plastic bags. It is annoying though that the government has taken the easy option of making only large retailers charge for bags which isn't the case in other areas of the country. Small retailers can voluntarily charge for bags if they want. Whether or not a shop must charge for bags depends on the size of the company that runs the shop, not on the size of an individual branch. The money raised is not a tax and the proceeds go to support a good cause of the retailers choice. Millions of pounds have already been raised in Wales for charities.
What can you do?
Not using or, at least, reducing your usage of plastic bags is an eco-friendly change which everyone can make. It’s a small change to your life which can make a big difference to the levels of plastic rubbish and pollution found on our planet. So could you be green, greener or the greenest?
Green – do you really need a carrier bag?
Try not to use more plastic bags than you need. Do you need another plastic bag every time you buy something from a different shop? Could you put all your shopping in the same bag?
Greener – re-use carrier bags
Re-use plastic carrier bags by putting a few old ones in your handbag, pocket, car or anywhere else you might need them. Keep using them until they fall apart and then recycle them. I take mine to my local supermarket.
Greenest – use re-usable alternatives to plastic carrier bags
Treat yourself to some lovely shopping bags and they don't have to be made of hessian or hemp if that’s not your thing! There are lots of beautiful designs available in a wide range of materials and I’ve become a bit obsessed with them. Don’t just use them for food shopping either. I use mine for anything and everything including clothes and shoes. Here are some ideas to get you started and they make a great Christmas or birthday presents too. Many of them are very lightweight and roll up so they're ideal for popping into your handbag or pocket.
If you’re looking for a cotton bag how about supporting the WDC (Whale & Dolphin Conservation) charity with a cotton bag carrying the slogan “A world where every whale and dolphins is safe and free” logo on it for only £2.60.
Envirosax bags come in lots of gorgeous designs (see photo). They’re made from durable, waterproof polyester and are large, strong bags which roll up nice and small so they can easily be stashed in your handbag or glovebox. Weighing only 40g they are lightweight and portable. I’ve got several of these bags in my handbag at the moment. You can buy them from Amazon for about £6.
Onya bags are another favourite of mine and again they fold up into their own pouch and have a clip so you can hang them from your keyring or handbag. Green People sell a brightly-coloured shoulder bag with a secure zip-up closure plus when you’re using the bag the pouch becomes a useful storage pocket for for mobile/ipod/radio. Currently it's reduced from £9.99 to a bargain £4.99. You can also buy them in a wide range of coulours on ebay and Amazon.
Jute makes a nice sturdy bag although it's not waterproof. English Heritage have a good selection with prices starting at £2.50.
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