End of the line for the “disposable” plastic bag
To quote Chris Wright in
his new book Your Wake Up Call: Signposts
to Sustainability, doing just three things would save our planet:
- Stop shopping at supermarkets
- Stop shopping at supermarkets
- Stop shopping at supermarkets
Time for behaviour change
He goes on to say that
while there is an element of truth in this it would be unfair to totally
demonise supermarkets. The supermarket as an institution and the associated
culture is, for the time being, here and a huge part of contemporary life but
there is no reason that now isn’t a perfect time for a shift in behaviour,
regarding certain issues that we perceive as intrinsic to consumerism.
particular I am talking about one of the pressing topics that in recent months
and years it has become nearly impossible to neglect; the plastic bag. Most of
which are produced, as well as disposed of, in China, the
insanely wasteful 10,000-mile story between manufacturing and dumping is no
longer a silent one, with more and more people sitting up and paying attention.
Bags of room for improvement…
a Pulse survey
According to www.sayno2plasticbags.org.uk every year, an estimated 17½
billion plastic bags are given away by supermarkets. To put this
perspective that is equivalent to over 290
bags for every person in the UK.
It is with this frankly terrifying statistic in mind I set to find out what
Tesco, Asda Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, were doing about their contribution to an
ever mounting plastic mountain…
Sadly when I phoned the
alleged “customer helpline” at Britain’s
highest grossing supermarket information was scant at best and I was referred
back to the Tesco website, the exact same one I had got the helpline number
To quote Tesco
“You’ll collect one Green Clubcard Point every time you re-use any bag
instead of using a new one to pack your shopping. If we all use one less
carrier bag every time we shop at Tesco, together we will use about one billion
fewer carrier bags a year.”
For me this just felt a little hollow, a last
minute gesture to get aboard the green bandwagon. At a time when serious action
is needed a company that has one pound in seven (The Daily Telegraph 19/04/07)
spent with them this just isn’t good enough
Anyone who has been into a Sainsbury’s store
recently may have noted that the store’s once white bags with orange detail
have been replace with a new, thinner, orange bags which is comprised of 33%
recycled materials. In addition to this at the checkouts customers are informed
that if their “Bag for Life” ever breaks that it will be replaced free of
charge In addition to this last Friday saw the first of five trial days where
Sainsbury’s declared a “plastic bag ban” and instead customers were provided
with enough “Bags for Life” to take their shopping home, thus promoting the
idea of a re-usable means of transporting shopping home. All steps in the right
direction, but very tentative ones.
The move towards part recycled bags is a
commendable effort on the part of Sainsbury’s, but one that still requires the
production of millions of bags a year, not to mention the environmental impact,
cost and time required to source and refine the recycled plastic.
Of late Waitrose have been making their voices
heard on lots of issues at the heart of the ethical consumption movement,
ranging from paying a sensible price to dairy farmers for milk to reducing
packaging, information on which is freely available on their website. It
therefore follows that the store would have an active approach to tackling the
issue of disposable plastic bags, firstly they now
provide paper bags rather than polythene bags to pack loose items that are not
wet or likely to stain. Secondly the chain is in the process of Introducing
recycling points for plastic carrier bags in all Waitrose, and John Lewis,
shops by the end of 2007. Waitrose has also been working in conjunction with
Government-funded agency WRAP’s (Waste Resources and Action Programme) campaign
‘Choose to Reuse’ which is linked to the store’s continuing promotion of
reusing bags, an initiative that they claim on their website reduces
single-trip carrier bag use quite substantially and driving ‘Bag for Life’ use
up by as much as a factor of five. They concede that this progress isn’t always
sustained and their own customer research suggests that it would be difficult
to stop providing free plastic carrier bags at the moment, so they continue to
actively promote reusing carrier bags.
In my search for information I have to say I was
pleasantly taken aback a little when I spoke with Asda, who are owned by the
American conglomerate Wal Mart, who told me that:
"It’s simply not sustainable to
keep throwing away billions of bags each year. That’s why we want our customers to change the habit of a lifetime. If you bring back
five old bags, we’ll give you a free bag for life."
This feels like a highly considered and workable
scheme, and one that I would encourage anyone who shops at Asda to take
advantage of, because the more people who take advantage of this then the more
effective it can be. It is also worth considering that if the public are
unresponsive to such initiatives then there is a chance they could be removed.
The supermarkets have shown a step toward behaviour
change, some taking larger steps than others, and as individuals we too should
begin to change our behaviour. There is simply no need to take a bag every time
you go to the shop, if you don’t carry a satchel, back pack or similar then it
may be worth considering investing in one. If you don’t feel like that then
what about popping an old polythene bag in your pocket before heading to the
Forget carrier bag, make it carry-a-bag.
So next time you here the line, “Would like like a
bag for that?” consider these three options:
- (or at least ) Recycle.
It isn’t too late by any means, but we all need to
work at it.
Every little helps.Try something new.
James Leigh is a freelance journalist who also as a
freelance public relations consultant for Blue Rocket (www.bluerocketgroup.com)
the sister company of Green Rocket (www.greenrocketgroup.com), an award winning ethical media relations company
and social enterprise set up to promote and support social and environmental
YOUR WAKE UP CALL –
Signposts to Sustainability by Chris Wright can be purchased online at www.afsl.org.uk/services – priced £11.99. For every copy sold, £5 is donated to Action for Sustainable Living, a charity that helps people to live more sustainably,
focusing on simple changes that will make the world a better place to live in.
Chris Wright is author of four books (including two
novels) that explore the themes of community renewal and personal development.
He is a founder member of Action for Sustainable Living and sponsor of Ethical
also in issue 4 of pulse news