THE PLASTIC BAG DILEMMA

The introduction of the 5p charge for plastic shopping bags in 2015 caused a fantastic 84% drop in bags being handed out in UK supermarkets. A much welcomed and decisive step in the right direction. At the same time we have also seen the rise of biodegradable and compostable bags and packaging. But as with many new laws and inventions, there are often unforeseen consequences. Ireland’s tax on plastic shopping bags, and the plastic bag ban across some territories in Australia more recently, resulted in a significant increase in sales of heavier plastic waste bags for kitchen bins. Biodegradable bags are made of a blend of plastic and corn or potato starch and will decompose in water and in CO2 but still cause plastic pollution in the long run. Bioplastic crops needed for this type of bag, and for compostable packaging in general, compete for land with biofuels and food crops, causing big problems such as loss of rainforests in favour of agricultural land use. The dilemma continues when you consider the environmental impact of paper bags and cotton bags in terms of resource use, energy and greenhouse outcomes. According to a UK Environmental Agency report, a paper bag would need to be re-used at least four times and a cotton bag 173 times to have a lower environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag.

The simple solution is to avoid single use bags altogether and to have our own supply of cotton bags always at the ready. In addition to the usual cotton and hemp carrier bags, we can also have small fabric bags for bagging up fruit, veg, bread and other loose items in the shops. I made a variety of small bags one afternoon from fabric I had saved over time, including my sons’ first cot bedlinen. If you don’t sew, you can buy organic cotton drawstring bags from  Etsy or a dozen other online shops. As for kitchen bin bags – since I decided to live without plastic bags altogether we had to be more rigorous about separating compost, cooked food and recyclables so that the kitchen bin can be emptied straight into the large bin outside without the use of a bag. My little shopping bags are precious to me now and I wouldn’t dream of throwing them away or using them as a bin bag. It’s just a small mind shift from ‘throw-away’ to ‘keepsake’ that puts the solution to the big problems into our own hands.

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2 thoughts on “THE PLASTIC BAG DILEMMA

  1. Debbie

    I only recently discovered your site. I am trying to reduce plastic in my home which is hard as more and more things, like olive oil are now in plastic packaging. I thought a good place to start might be my local farm shop. The meat sold there is wrapped in more plastic than in the supermarket even when buying it from the fresh meat counter. They won’t let you use your own bags either, apparently all to do with health regulations.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      I know how difficult it is. It took me a long while to find the shops that would allow me bring my own boxes or that only use paper. I also do special trips a little further afield once every few months to stock up on unpackaged dried foods and herbs etc. It’s just a very different way of shopping. Early on I discovered that there were two places in my town where I can refill my olive oil bottle. I had never noticed in all the years I lived here! So, do keep going even if it is one little step at a time. Check out my facebook page and other non-plastic and zero-waste facebook pages or websites for practical advice and more ideas.

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