Bin the bags

Written by on 3 July 2014

This year Scotland might start to win the war against the pesky carrier bag.
There are 750 million of them dished out a year, many of them ending up in a landfill, where they will stay undecomposed for more than 1,000 years.
The bags have been the perfect example of what Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead has referred to as our “throwaway society” and despite an advertising campaign that compared plastic bags to multiplying rabbits, so far society has found it hard to stop taking them and throwing them away.
But MSPs have now, finally, passed legislation putting an end to free plastic bags. At 5p the cost is minimal, but the Scottish Government hopes it will be enough to make people change their behaviour.
It has been careful not to use the word tax, instead using the terms charge or levy, but whether it is a tax or not, hopefully, it will be a small step towards cutting waste.
I am as guilty as the next person of adding to that landfill pile. Despite owning several ‘bags for life’, I’ve still found myself at the supermarket till empty handed and sheepishly had to ask for more carrier bags.
But the legislation is a small important step. Conservative rural affairs spokesman Alex Fergusson warned that when the scheme was introduced in Ireland, plastic carrier bags reduced by 90 per cent, but demand for plastic film rose by more than 30 per cent – creating 29,000 tonnes of waste.
In Wales too, plastic bag use has dropped but paper bag use has risen in turn.
So while the move to ban the bag has to be welcomed, it will only work if everyone gets on board – if businesses go by the spirit of the rules to encourage people to not just avoid paying a 5p charge, but to think carefully about how they go about taking their goods home.
Of course, the real waste menace that still needs to be tackled is packaging. Some manufacturers have taken great strides to slim down their products, but there are still over-designed boxes and cartons on the market that may aim to keep the food fresh, but create a mountain of rubbish for the consumer.
An old contact of mine told me his own one-man crusade against the supermarkets involved simply unwrapping everything he deemed unnecessary at the checkout and leaving it for the shopkeeper to deal with.
That seemed excessive not to mention an irritation for the poor checkout employee and the angry customers standing behind you, but who knows? If there was less of the stuff to carry home, we wouldn’t need all the bags to put it in, in the first place.

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