The case against plastic bags


Soon you will have to pay in many instances for that plastic shopping bag – and Jempson’s will be charging you, though they do not have to.

But why is the Government introducing this charge? The short answer is because plastic bags damage the environment.

Much plastic does not degrade and ends up in the sea and in rivers, on beaches and in the stomachs of animals, birds and fish. And ocean currents carry and collect it in vast quantities in some parts of our planet.

We use plastic in large quantities for many purposes, and it may contain harmful chemicals. Plastic bags are one of the major and obvious uses and all too often a plastic bag may only be used once before being thrown away, ending up where we often neither know nor care.

Degradable plastics are one way forward. But I recall working with the supermarkets on this in the 90s (when I worked in Whitehall for the Department of the Environment) and some plastic embarrassingly fell apart on the supermarket shelves, while other plastics stayed resolutely and unflinchingly solid in compost bins ; and there are still problems with this way forward.

The alternative is a bag you re-use – a bag for life as one supermarket called them, though they never lived that long as normal wear and tear wore them out. But even then there may be purchases you want to keep separate because they are damp, smelly or whatever. You can however keep a few basic bags to hand for those sort of problems.

Charging for plastic bags is a change. Some changes are sensible and some may not have been thought through. One place I lived had about five different containers into which you sorted your rubbish and the council’s contractor collected everything with a van split into various compartments – for tins, glass, newspapers etc.

My current three bins (black, brown and green) are simpler, but I do notice that I only fill about a third of my black bin for every green bin I fill completely – so recycling and re-using materials has taken root. And most of the sorting tends to be done in large recycling plants.

Whether paying for plastic bags will bring similar changes remains to be seen but I welcome it if the end result is less plastic waste causing less damage in the world around.

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