Sunday, September 09, 2007

Here's a Green Idea: Why Not Ban Plastic Bags?

Jo Swinson, one of my favourite LibDem MPs (it's a longer list than you might think!), has written a piece on LibDem Voice on excess packaging. She intends proposing a motion at the LibDem conference on the subject. Now look, stay awake at the back! She writes...
A Liberal Democrat report from 2004 estimated that UK supermarkets give out 17
billion plastic bags annually, and encouraging reuse of disposable plastic bags is another area addressed in the motion. Evidence from abroad on the success of plastic bag taxes is mixed, so the motion instead proposes a deposit scheme to tackle plastic bag use. Charging consumers at the point of sale would discourage unnecessary plastic bag use, while a deposit to be reclaimed would encourage the re-use of bags where they had been paid for.

I have recently been to a country where they have been rather more radical. They have actually banned plastic bags altogether. It's for tidiness reasons rather than anything else, but it does seem to work. The country? Rwanda. The women tend to carry things on their heads, which might be a little much for the good burghers of Chipping Sodbury, but if you go to a supermarket by car why do you need bags when you can just place things in your boot? Also, you can take your own bags with you if you are not going by car. So, apart from the fact that as a rule I don't like banning things, why shouldn't we ban plastic bags?


ThunderDragon said...

Plastic bags are the last thing made of old recycled plastic. It usually isn't of good enough quality to be used for anything else - plastic bags is the end of the life of the plastic. Thus banning them would just mean that there is plastic that can't be re-used at all.

Providing incentives for re-using the bags we have and facilities for recycling them is a good idea and has been carried out by many supermarkets, but banning them or charging for their use in the first place is not a solution.

Duncan Borrowman said...

Ireland have managed it!

Anonymous said...

Like you, Iain, I am not the world's biggest fan of banning things, but this might be a good candidate for the chop.

I live in Westminster and the plastic bags we recycle our rubbish in get sent to the Far East for recycling. It's madness.

Anonymous said...

Because most people recycle them themselves. I for one used to have a big bag full of them - great for wrapping stuff in, carrying dirty things like plants in pots etc. But now I find them harder to get hold of in supermarkets, I'm having to buy black plastic sacks, which you only really get one use out of.

And in theory you can just put everything from a trolley into a car boot. But then try to unload your car without everything falling out...

Anonymous said...

iain, i reckon you actually believe in banning or limiting a lot more things than you think you do!

check your posts from, say, the last 6 months or so. I reckon you've called for a ban, limit etc on behaviours fairly regularly.

nothing wrong with that. conservatism isn't simply licence, after all. and many people of all persuasions share a belief in certain norms of behaviour.

and on that dull note, i bid you farewell!

Anonymous said...

It's annoying that it's sometimes difficult NOT to be given a plastic bag. I bought a small one-pint carton of milk at my local Sainsbury's yesterday and the checkout girl wrapped it in a full size plastic bag until I told her not to be silly. Clearly the supermarkets are addicted to the wretched things. And of course if you DON'T have one, you are much more likely to be hassled by security on the way out.

I think they are necessary sometimes though, so I'd be opposed to banning them entirely. What about the American solution of offering customers paper or plastic?

Anonymous said...

I've served her in a shop and she took a plastic bag for less than three items!

Disgusted of Sidcup

(ok, it's not sidcup but I just wanted to write that!)

Anonymous said...

You obviously have never tried shopping with too small children and a buggy. Try living without a car for a week, Mr Man Of The People.

Anonymous said...

Too ludicrous for words.

Anonymous said...

I recycle plastic bags for my smelly garbage. It lines the kitchen bin and prevents slimy deposits in the wheelie bin. So if I don't get bags from the supermarket, I will buy others (from the supermarket and I am sure they know that). Why do we have to have plastic bags, why not cardboard as in the US? Or, as I saw when I shopped in the Coop the other day provide degradable plastic ones?

Anonymous said...

Because TESCO is frightend that the theiving shoppers will bring in their own hard bags and nick everthing whilst walking around the aisles.

Anonymous said...

Iain, this is one of my hot topics as I have written a research paper on this subject, focusing on the plastic bag levy in the RoI, and looking at similar restrictions in other countries.

The reason the ban is implemented in African countries is because the bags end up in their rivers and blocks their water supply, thus causing failed crops, and could lead to famine.

The govt is too scared to introduce a similar levy to the RoI because it will be accused of implementing a stealth tax. Yet if you visit Dublin, you will find that local people have welcomed it and do indeed take their own bags to reuse. The money they collect from the tax goes to local environmental projects and they have successfully managed to reduce the number of plastic bags by 90% since 2002 when it was introduced, a couple of months after they had the euro. That is what a call a brave govt with conviction. Consultations prior to its implementation showed it only had 50% support, but it is now a way of life and they cannot get used to our extravagant use of plastic bags in this country.

Our govt is working with leading supermarkets to encourage shoppers to use less plastic bags, but unless it is legislated, it will not happen, it never does.

simonh said...

Ireland have taxed plastic bags not banned them and reduced their use significantly. Might be a better approach

Tory Radio said...

1) Duncan - Ireland have not banned bags they tax them.

2) Paper bags are worse for teh environment when you incorporate the transport costs.

3) If you want to look at environmental damage and waste going into landfill you would do better looking at disposable nappies which account for a much higher percentage of waste - yet no politician would ever dare suggest taxing let along banning disposable nappies.

4) Biodegrable bags are OK - but you do realise that in effect they just break down into smaller pieces and as such remain in the environment in smaller pieces for years.

5) If you put a biodegrable bag into a plastic bag recycling bin - the rest of the plastic bags are in effect contaminated - so it is that much harder to recyle them and use them again.

6) Shops do use them to prevent stop loss (ir you know someone has bought something if its in a bag) but they are a huge cost to retailers and instead of a tax (why the hell should Government get involved) you may be better if all retailers moved to a charge on the bags.

7) If people don't want bags why don't they just not take them?

Excuse the rant - I worked with the environment team of a high street retailer which at the time gave some 400 million bags a year out.

Anonymous said...

Yep, ban the bag! Or make them avaliable at a price of £3 each- to encourage re-use.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell Dale, it's the second sensible thing I've ever read on your blog. Ban the buggers, the oil that goes into making them could be better used elsewhere. I have no problem in banning stupid things (handguns, Jordan, Jodie Marsh, Heat Magazine et al).

Daily Referendum said...

I used to return pop bottles when I was a kid for the refund.

If the supermarkets offered a penny a bag refund I think it could help. It would also help keep the kids in fags.

Sabretache said...

The politicians credo and guide to greasy-pole climbing. (in furtherance of the noble purposes of the State)

Creed: I believe in one God - PROGRESS; and in his handmaidens constant EXPONENTIAL ECONOMIC and POPULATION growth.

Leitmotif: There has never ever been a civilization so wise advanced, progressive and all-knowing as ours. (My name is Ozymandias)

Guide - In furtherance of the one true faith:

If you're not a PROGRESSIVE, you're a REACTIONARY Which in this most fundamental of matters is heresy, if not treason and must be dealt with accordingly.

Demonise this, demonise that, demonise the other. Interfere with this interfere with that interfere with the other. Regulate this, regulate that, regulate the other. Tax this, tax that, tax the other. Ban this, ban that, ban the other. Make this a duty, make that a duty, make the other a duty. Force people to do this, force people to do that, force people to do the other.

Feed them a diet of faux-culture - of soccer, celebrity and sex. Define the boundaries of thought and debate. Ridicule or ostracize those who dare speak outside the boundaries, or question the official narrative of who and what we are. Silence them if they show signs of becoming effective. Make them dependant on the State for their wellbeing and protection from the things they most fear. Do not allow them to protect themselves. If necessary, manufacture those fears. At least stoke them up and exaggerate them. They will become correspondingly grateful, docile and compliant. But, above all, distrust them and be vigilant for signs of effective dissent.

Gotta stay hyper-active about ruling the minutiae of peoples' lives. Gotta control both narrative and agenda. Reality for the masses must be what we say it is. All hail the Nanny-State and it's iron-fisted enforcers (those fine upstanding executioners in blue).

And on these fundamentals, it matters not what political party you vote for. In orchestral terms they are all 'variations on a theme' - the same tired worn-out, discredited theme.

Climate change? Pollution? Resource constraints? Poverty? Our solemn right (nay duty) to invade any country we choose in furtherance of these our solemn 'Values'?

DONTCHA KNOW - WE'RE THE GOODIES and The world must be made to see things our way, OR ELSE !"

"So, Let's see. we're having a light policy day to day. what new pearl of political wisdom can we propose for the poor dear Sheeple to chatter aimlessly about?

I Know! - let's ban plastic bags!"

Says it all really.

Anonymous said...

Economics 101, Iain.

Plastic bags have benefits in terms of being cheap to produce and being convenient which consumers feel the benefit from. They have disadvantages in terms of landfill particularly which consumers do not directly feel. The answer is to ensure consumers pay a sum which fully reflects the private benefits and social costs, not to ban bags. It is perfectly possible that even taking into account all costs and benefits, there would be net utility gains from using some plastic bags. That being the case, a ban would be counterproductive. Basic stuff.

Madasafish said...

Why not extend Tesco's scheme - which offers Tesco points for re-use of bags (1 per bag)- to charge for them.
I note Aldi charge...

As a result when we visit tesco or Aldi we take along old/large reusable bags and either save money or don't spendit.

Frankly we NEED some form of packaging to caryy goods. So it's either paper ones... bigger thicker and cost more... or encourage people to recycle.

(we use our old ones as kitchen bin liners - a further saving).

Frankly encouragement of recycling is better than banning... which is bleeding obvious to anyone who supports consumer choice.

I thought the Conservatives are the party of choice.

Obviously I am wrong.

Getting consumers onside is vital to make recycling work.. or anything for that matter (as the muppets in charge of HIPS are shortly to discover)

Anonymous said...

I reuse all plastic bags as carrier bags, storage bags or bin liners. They're really useful.

AVI said...

In the states, the Bag Federation says:
"Compared to paper grocery bags, plastic grocery bags consume 40 percent less energy, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and release up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes"

There are other thigns to take into account of course - and using less of any type of bag is surely a good idea. A levy like Ireland's might work, (around 20cents?) a small levy (pence) won't make any difference to most.

@ Tory Radio - good points, save for your sideswipe at disposable nappies. As I recall, a recent study (2006?) showd that the energy use / life cycle of disposable nappies was roughly the same as 'real' nappies, such is the energy used in washing the things in a machine.

Jonathan Sheppard said...

Im not talking about the energy used in disposable nappies - Im talking about that fact that they all go to landfill and as such are a bigger issue with regards waste.

Plastic bags are attacked on two fronts - energy and then their impact on teh environment in terms of them being seen in trees etc and their impact after they have been used.

Disposable nappies are by far a bigger issue in terms of how they all end up in landfill - than plastic bags.

Jonathan Sheppard said...

For example:- "In the UK about 800,000 tonnes of nappy waste are produced each year, which local authorities must dispose of - estimates vary but somewhere between 2.6-4% of the UK's domestic waste".

Rich Tee said...

I have taken my own bag(s) to the shops for years (both the plastic and holdall varieties). I used to get strange looks but I don't anymore.

The local supermarket has a plastic bag recycling bin but I don't use it because the council take them in the recycling bins here. After I have worn them out carrying stuff in them.

Anon, 9AM:"You obviously have never tried shopping with too small children and a buggy. Try living without a car for a week, Mr Man Of The People."

I come from a family of six and we never owned a car.

Hughes Views said...

According to a Green Party member quoted recently in the London Times, paper bags damage our environment more than plastic ones and towelling nappies more than plastic dittos. If they want mankind to stop impacting the planet, they should just gas us all and have done with it...

Anonymous said...

Dog Poo!!
I take two plastic bags with me when I walk the dog - it's safe, clean and convenient. No plastic bags = lots more dog poo!

Anonymous said...

Other countries have stopped using them, banning them is a good idea and within weeks people would change their habits and forget about them.

Anonymous said...

More poor thinking from the Lib Dems.

As has alkeady been mentioned, plastic bags are usually made from otherwise unusable recycled plastic (except see below).

The problem is not the use of plastics, but the sending of plastics to land fill. Waste incinerator operators like plastic bags in their waste because they have a relatively high energy content - OK it is not CO2 neutral, but it is a by product of fossil fuel usage and will continue to have plastic so lon as we use oil.

It is possible to recycle plastics into oil suitable to be added as an input to an oil refinery. This is a process operating in Japan and Korea, with another likely to go ahead in Germany.

The environmental saving of using an alternative is negligible. A recent report showed that paper bags caused more harm to the environment because they could not be packed as tightly and therefore used more fuel when being transported to the supermarket.

The carbon content of a plastic bag is about the same as the carbon content of the petrol you would use driving across the supermarket car park. If you want to be environmentally friendly in your shopping, use more bags and shop less frequently. There would still be little difference compared with the carbon expended in bringing all the products you buy to the supermarket.

Anonymous said...

Another brilliant idea that will appeal to 0.01% of eco-voters whilst at the same time putting off millions of women who do the shopping every week.

What is the matter with the tories? People might say they care about the enviroment in polls but when reality bites they won't vote for a party with crackpot ideas like this.

Winning the next election isn't difficult if the tories put some thought in to their policies.

I could win it for them if you give me 20 minutes to rustle up a manifesto that will appeal to the broad majority.

Scipio said...

Surely we can use bio-degradable plastic (unless there are good reasons that we don;t know about, as is often the case), or really strong paper like they do in the US.

Finally, why don't people invest in some permenent cloth bags which they re-use?

As ever, the reason why is because it is convenient to get a new bag and then discard it.

Anonymous said...

Great idea in theory although I think this country has enough 'bans' already.

One problem - more better quality plastic bags would have to be made to act as bin liners as that is what I think most people use supermarket bags for now.

So you stop shops giving bags away free but they will then sell more bags anyway, thus making them a profit. Is it worth it and by the time the plastic's being made into a bag, it can't really be used for anything else can it?

Anonymous said...

If we really want to talk about landfill and its problems, why not 'ban' disposable nappies. Everyone managed before they existed. What's the problem?

They take years and years to disintegrate as well as adding to Dynorod's profits year on year.

Fidothedog said...

Yet more banstibation.

Anonymous said...

Work is already underway within the retail industry to address the plastic bag problem.

Practically all the main supermarkers have signed up to a "Bag for Life" scheme. Millions have been sold and reused over and over. There has been a 30% reduction in plastic carrier bags in trial stores for the company I work for and they have rolled it out nationwide. Also the material they use to make bags contains more recycled material than before. More and more customers are using woven bags or trollies. I think that in a very short time the visual difference is amazing.

You actually find that Tescos offer points incentives to encourage reuse of bags. Other shops are cross-merchandising food deals with a 'freebie' bag reward if you purchase certain products.

I reckon there will be a sizeable cut back in the UK this year of these poly carriers.

The carrier bag thing is NOT the biggest problem in my opinion. The problem is plastic milk cartons and retailers are now on the case to make them from recycled material. Most plastic milk cartons I am told have been made from new plastic and can be recycled. We need to get them to make them with recycled plastic in the first place and recycle again and again.

Most stores have also moved to (or are moving towards) biodegradable packing for things like sandwiches and cream cakes which traditionaly come in clear plastic containers. I don't think it should all be doom and gloom. Retailers are getting there... the question is should they be hurried up? I'm not sure its necessary.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Iain you realy are new labour now, lets ban this and lets ban that.

Why should plastic bags be banned. Stop interfearing in peoples lives we are becoming a Stalinist state.


We want to think for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

So having given virtually all our powers of government away to Brussels, politicians are left debating the use of plastic bags.

O tempora, o mores!

Anonymous said...

Ian, have you seen the Hickey column in the Express? It attributes your comments on Rwanda to 'bonkers' Jo Swinson!

Roger Thornhill said...

Typically idiotic Lib Dem.

I use plastic bags as bin liners. I do not need to buy bin liners, nor do I have to waste time, energy and cleaning products cleaning the inside of my bin.

If the FibDumbers want to be useful (oxymoron, anyone?) reducing packaging and making it biodegradable and/or combustible would be a good idea (as in safe to incinerate, not spontaneously ingniting).

Nich Starling said...

I remember as a child using shopping bags made of paper. Recylcing them is easy and makes moe sense that plastic.

Anonymous said...

"I come from a family of six and we never owned a car."

If you hadn't spent so much money polluting the planet by over-breeding you could have bought a car.