When will Britain bin its plastic bag habit?

July 17, 2009

Seven leading supermarkets and their customers are finding it slow going to stop using plastic bags.

Over the last three years supermarkets have reduced the number of bags from 870 million to 452 million, just failing to meet a government target to cut the number by half.

The reduction drew words of praise from Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

“This is a great achievement by the seven supermarkets and their customers and it shows that by working together, we really can change our bag habits,” said Benn.

The British Retail Consortium has backed the government’s softly, softly stance.

“These figures send a clear message: the voluntary approach is very successful and can lead to better informed customers and lasting change,” said Stephen Robertson, the BRC Director General.

But with environmentalists saying plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to disintegrate and pose threats to marine life, birds and other animals, the UN has recently called for governments to take a more punitive approach.

“Thin film single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased-out rapidly everywhere — there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director in June.

Given that a number of countries throughout the world have already outlawed plastic shopping bags isn’t it time Britain took a more interventionist approach to curtailing their use?


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Doesn’t the UN have more important issues to waste my money on?

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

This makes me very concerned.. there is and has been alternative’s for quite some time now, but no effort has gone into placing it into law.. when you consider not only the pollution done in landfills, but also in our waterways to animals & aquatic life by the PLASTIC BAG ISSUE.. its a tragedy..Its time to take responsibility for our surroundings.. with cancer rates climbing and less areas available to bury stuff, lets get moving on the BIO-DEGRADIBLE movement..bio plastics are fully degenerated in several weeks under the correct conditions and are made from natural products “corn or potato starch to name a few”…When 2010 EU laws come into force we will be fined for all landfill over our allocated amounts… this is for the benefit of future generations.. and before you say its all rubbish (no pun intended) think about asbestos’s, lead, mercury, to name a few.. in years to come we will all wonder why it took so long to change..Burying oil by-product all over our countryside how stupid..?? JP

Posted by jake | Report as abusive

Plastics bags wont go away because consumers find them useful. Most of the comments aboveappy to litter which is not the same as waste. Bamming items like cans and bags will not solve the problem of litter. Plastic bags are significantly more environmentally friendly than paper and the alternatives especially if they are used in waste burning plants sucjh as they have in environmentally advanced countries like Switzerland.

Posted by James | Report as abusive

So we should continue to use plastic bags because they are convenient?It that the thinking of any person who likes to call themselves civilized?Plastic bags won’t go away, i.e. consumers will not stop relying on them until they are no longer worth the hassle.In other words, make them expensive, provide cheaper green alternatives and hey presto!On a more serious note, why are they even still in existence? The state is entirely to blame, given that they are green alternatives. Why are supermarkets, who make superprofits, given time to ‘adjust’?They should be given fines, which can be used to clean up the mess their business practices create.THAT is good government.

Posted by Tony | Report as abusive

Well said tony,..another case of the “nanny” state massaging the whims of the giant corporations,there was a time if you forgot your own shopping bag you had to pay!! for a plastic bag,until the supermarkets decided to use the free bag as a competitive edge,then they all got on the band wagon,times have changed,time to fine supermarkets for profitering from the gullible public.

Posted by paul | Report as abusive

Tesco bags are biodegradable, they even have a ‘use by’ date on them because they disintegrate soon after; everyone could adopt this technology. So let’s move on to a bigger problem.Meanwhile many people reuse shopping bags as bin bags – no doubt the supermarkets would welcome the opportunity to sell us non-biodegradable bin bags instead. And no doubt the government is looking for the chance to tax all bags!

Posted by bill | Report as abusive

It’s such rubbish that people won’t take responsibility for there own actions. If people were clever enough all they would have to do is keep a few bags in the back of the car and unload their shopping straight into them from the trolley. That way if you so lazy and don’t want to carry bags into the shops with you then you can be even more lazy and just load the trolley without having to pack bags. It all comes down to laziness. I don’t see what is so hard about taking my own bags into the shops so I don’t see what anyone else’s gripe is.Shops should either stop plastic bags or start charging for each one. I know some shops have started charging for them, but they all should even if it is just a TAX!!!!

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