Sunday, 30 December 2018

Plastic pollution > Is your bag for life, or landfill?

Five years ago, the government introduced the mandatory charge on plastic shopping bags:
Futures Forum: Recycling plastics in England: 5p per bag

The trouble is that this has not resulted in very much reduction, reuse or recycling:
Futures Forum: Reduce, reuse, recycle >>> 'What's Wrong with the Three Rs of Environmentalism'

In fact, the UK isn't doing very well:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and banning plastic pollution

Whereas the likes of Kenya are really trying:
This country banned plastic bags - should we? - BBC News
Kenya plastic bag ban comes into force after years of delays - BBC News
Eight months on, is the world's most drastic plastic bag ban working? | World news | The Guardian
TODAYonline | The Big Read: As countries wage war on plastics, the jury's still out on how best to tackle the problem
How smuggling threatens to undermine Kenya’s plastic bag ban | UN Environment
What ban? Plastic bags trade still thriving in western Kenya - Daily Nation

It seems we could try much harder:
Plastic bag tax creates MORE rubbish as supermarkets hand out a billion 'bags for life' each year - The Sun
Bag for life scandal: 1.2 BILLION heavy-duty carriers are sold in a year | Daily Mail Online 

Bags for life’ should be called ‘bags for 50 yards’

december 29 2018, 12:01am, the times

As we’re drowning in even more plastic thanks to the 5p tax, it’s time to imagine life without our throwaway friends

For the past week or so there has been a plastic bag caught in the uppermost branches of the tree that is outside my bedroom window. It is a blue bag. It may be from the corner shop, which gives them away willy-nilly unless you expressly opt out. “Ahmet,” I will say, “no bag, no bag, no bag! I think this box of eggs can look after itself on the short walk home, given they are boxed and all.” Or: “Ahmet, no bag, no bag, no bag! See this arm? See this bottle of wine? See how I can tuck this bottle of wine under my arm? Arms and wine? Weren’t they made for each other?”

‘Bags for life’ should be called ‘bags for 50 yards’ | Comment | The Times 

Is your bag for life, or landfill? Supermarkets boast that stronger carriers are better for the environment, but with 1.2billion sold each year they're blamed for causing more plastic waste than ever

> Bags for life are made of thick plastic, meaning they can be used multiple times 
> But shoppers are forgetting to reuse the 10p bags, causing more plastic waste
> Last year Britain's ten biggest retailers issued a staggering 1.18 billion bags for life, the equivalent of 44 for every household in the country


PUBLISHED: 29 December 2018

Dashing into the supermarket earlier this week for those last-minute Christmas essentials, all too many shoppers will have found themselves at the check-out nodding gladly when asked: 'Would you like a plastic bag?' Because try as we may to help the environment by taking our own bags with us when we shop, even the most green-minded consumers can be caught out from time to time.

But what has changed over recent months are the bags on offer. Where previously 5p would have bought you a flimsy single-use plastic bag, today most supermarkets have done away with that option altogether.

Supermarkets are handing out so-called 'bags for life' made of much thicker plastic

Instead, in return for 10p or so, they are handing out so-called 'bags for life' made of much thicker plastic. And, as the name implies, the whole point of them is that they are meant to be reused multiple times.

But what if customers treat them as single-use carriers, binning them once they have emptied them — and buying new ones on their next shopping trip? Which is exactly what worrying new figures suggest is happening.

It has emerged that last year Britain's ten biggest retailers issued a staggering 1.18 billion bags for life, the equivalent of 44 for every household in the country.

With each of these heavy duty bags typically containing at least twice as much plastic as the flimsier versions, the concern is that the public's fight against polluting plastic is being undermined by the switch.

According to data obtained from retailers by the Environmental Investigation Agency and published in The Times, in the 12 months to the end of June, Tesco distributed 430 million bags for life — the highest number of any supermarket. Sainsbury's gave out 268 million, Asda 219 million, Morrisons 140 million, Aldi 52 million, Co-op 28 million, Waitrose 22 million, M&S 14 million and Iceland 3.5 million.

Iceland announced in October that it would save more than 1,600 tonnes of plastic a year by stopping sales of single use bags and switching to bags for life. But Richard Walker, Iceland's managing director, has said that the change had in fact increased the amount of plastic used.

'I'm not proud of this because beyond the headline of the fact I have just removed a quarter of a billion single-use carrier bags from circulation, these bags for life are a thicker, higher grade of plastic,' he told The Times. 'We are selling less of them but it's not yet enough that it's compensated in terms of the extra weight that they are for the fewer amount of bags that we are selling.

'So therefore we haven't yet reduced the total amount of plastic weight, even though we have eliminated 5p carrier bags.' Iceland said its 5p single-use bags weighed 10g and were made from virgin plastic, and its 10p bags for life weighed 27.5g and were recycled plastic.

Tesco also revealed that it had used more plastic in the bags for life sold up until July than in the single-use ones sold in the previous financial year. It said its bags for life contained at least 94 per cent recycled plastic.

Sainsbury's bags for life are made from 100 per cent recycled content and are entirely recyclable. As with other retailers' schemes, customers are encouraged to return them when they have worn out, when they will be replaced for free and the old bag recycled.

The original 5p charge for single-use bags was implemented in 2015 following The Daily Mail's hard-fought Banish The Bags campaign. The results have been impressive. The number of single use carriers handed out every year by supermarkets has fallen from 7.5 billion to 1.2 billion since the 5p tax was introduced — a reduction of 84 per cent.

In light of this apparent success, the Government has now floated plans to extend the measures to every shop in the country and increase the charge to 10p. This would target the 3.6 billion bags a year supplied by 250,000 smaller retailers currently exempt from the levy. But there are no plans to increase the cost of the heavy-duty bags for life — to the dismay of environmentalists.

They are calling for the cost of such bags to be dramatically increased to either discourage shoppers from buying them or, if they have no choice, to use them multiple times. Forget 10p — the new price being suggested is £1. 'A significant increase to the price of bags or ending sales of single-use bags completely should be a next step in reducing plastic bag usage,' said Sarah Baulch, the EIA's senior ocean campaigner. 'In the face of a global plastic pollution crisis, supermarkets must go beyond these minimal measures and fundamentally rethink their use of single-use plastics across their supply chains.'

Rachelle Strauss, founder of the annual awareness campaign Zero Waste Week,agrees that a big price hike is required — as well as other measures. I think that a 5p or 10p charge is not a big enough disincentive to stop us buying plastic bags,' she said. 'Ideally it would be a much bigger charge to make us really stop and consider whether we need one. People don't think about the fact that oil spends millions of years forming underground, to then be made into a plastic bag we use for just 20 to 30 minutes.

'The bag then spends 500 years in landfill — the numbers just don't add up. Upping the price would be the first step, but check-out staff still ask you if you want a plastic bag even if you've only got one item. If shoppers had to ask for a bag themselves this would help us cut down. We need to change our psychology about plastic bags so it's normal not to have one.'

While such measures will help us cut down, ultimately campaigners are calling for shoppers to ditch supermarket bags for good — and reuse their own 'bags for life'.

'We need to get back to the root of the issue which is to take disposable plastic bags out of circulation,' says Strauss. 'After all, they've only been around since the Seventies and we managed perfectly well before without them.'

While there are numerous alternatives on the market, because of the wide range of materials used to make them, it's not easy for consumers to know which are the greenest ones.

For example, some studies have controversially suggested that taking into account the manufacturing process, the environmental impact of cotton bags can, in fact, be many times worse than that of plastic bags.

From the plastic polluting our oceans, to carbon footprint-heavy cotton crops, it can be hard to find a material that's totally eco-friendly. Here we weigh up just how green the different bags for life really are . . .

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