The humble plastic carrier bag, curse of the environment

Changing the habits of a lifetime are something we are all going to have to do to combat environmental problems. The onset of global warming, a number of ‘natural’ disasters and the amount of waste sent to landfill are all well-publicised issues.

Another major issue is our use or misuse of plastic bags. Since China banned free plastic carrier bags in 2008 and, the following year, the UN called for a worldwide ban on plastic bags, it’s increasingly clear that consumer attitudes have changed very little in the UK and other leading Western economies, and the issue of ‘White Pollution’, as it is known, has little diminished.

Although some major high street retailers, such as Marks and Spencer, charge for the use of plastic carrier bags, which, in itself, is possibly still very little deterrent, others have failed to follow suit and have continued to provide plastic bags for free. If carriers are available free of charge, consumer attitudes are unlikely to change very much. If all retailers were to adopt the policy of charging, the cost of having to buy a few plastic bags will soon mount up and if, for instance, plastic bags for a shopping trip could conceivably cost as much as a sandwich or a cup of coffee, people might think twice.

It seems clear that the political will to enforce bans just doesn’t seem there, whereas the collective power of the individual can do a great deal. If everyone decides to take a stand, to change their habits, to start to use bags for life and encourage friends and family to do the same, the attitudes of certain retailers will also change.