to read this story online: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0620/p01s03-woeu.html
Headline: Plastic bag revolt spreads across Britain
Byline: Mark Rice-Oxley Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
London - It was watching sea
creatures choke on plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean that
finally persuaded Rebecca Hosking that enough was enough.
filmmaker had already recoiled in disgust at deserted Hawaiian beaches piled up
with four feet of rubbish, the jetsam of Western consumerism washed up by an
ocean teeming with plastic. Now, filming off the coast, she looked on aghast as
sea turtles eagerly mistook bobbing translucent shapes in the water for
turtles can't read Wal-mart or Tesco
signs on plastic bags," fumes Ms. Hosking, who returned to Britain in March.
"They will home in on it and feed on it. Dolphins mistake them for seaweed
and quite often they'll eat them and it causes huge damage."
Within a few
weeks of coming back, Hosking persuaded her hometown to ban plastic bags
outright and found herself in the vanguard of a sudden British revulsion for
that most disposable convenience of the throwaway society.
grass-roots groups, and citizens are joining forces to reduce national
consumption of plastic bags, and Hosking is fielding hundreds of requests a day
by what she'd seen off the Hawaiian coast during her year-long filmmaking trip,
Hosking set up a local screening of her film and invited the town's 43
shopkeepers to come see where plastic bags end up.
seven of them showed up. At the end of the viewing, held in a local hall,
Hosking called for a show of hands in support of a voluntary ban on plastic
bags. Every single hand went up. The rest of the town's shopkeepers quickly
followed suit. On May 1, Modbury won bragging rights
as the first plastic-bag-free town in Europe.
towns and even cities are calling up Hosking to ask how she did it.
Supermarkets and other retailers are experimenting with plastic-bag-free days,
reusable totes, or even buy-your-own bags to discourage usage.
Sainsbury introduced a limited-edition reusable cotton bag with the logo
"I am not a plastic bag," emblazoned on it. Priced
at $10, within an hour 20,000 of them sold out. Others stores are trying
out paper bags and "green" checkout lines for environmentally
friendly customers who bring their own bags.
grass-roots action group, We Are What We Do, was surprised by the strength of
feeling on the issue. For a book entitled "Change the world for a
fiver" (five British pounds), its activists asked 1 million people what
their top suggestions were to make the world a better place. Eschewing plastic
bags was one of the most frequent responses, and is now one of its top
one of the worst indicators of indulgence and excess," says Eugenie
Harvey, cofounder of the group, which seeks to inspire people to change the
world through everyday actions. "In this country, we [each] use nearly 200
bags a year on average. They can take up to 500 years in landfill to break
down. It's needless waste."
adds, "They are the epitome of throw-away living. It's amazing how many
people want to [stop using them], how many towns are keen to get rid of them.
We have had 800 e-mails a day." Modbury is even
organizing for plastic bags to be recycled into furniture to remove at least
some from circulation.
Yet an awful
lot remain. Estimates vary wildly when it comes to mankind's propensity for the
ultimate in convenience shopping. Environmental groups guesstimate that up to 1
trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year.
In Britain the figure
is 8 billion - 134 per person. Some will be reused or employed as
wastebasket liners. But billions end up back in the environment, fluttering
from trees and hedges in China, disrupting the digestion of Indian cows,
scudding along the ocean floor, and suffocating an estimated 100,000 birds,
whales, seals, and turtles each year.
And there is
a climate-change dimension as well: Plastic bags are manufactured using oil.
Cutting usage in Britain by a
quarter would reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 63 tons a year -
equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off the road, the government says.
countries have taken decisive action against the plastic bag. Bangladesh and Taiwan have banned
them. Ireland took a
much-lauded step of imposing a tax (EURO 0.15 per bag) in 2002, leading to
usage reduction of up to 95 percent. Next month, California will become
the first US state to
force supermarkets to provide recycling bins.
But so far,
despite the growing public clamor in Britain, the
government is showing no signs of introducing a ban or a tax. It prefers
encouraging retailers to sign up to waste recycling commitments.
arrangement, agreed in February, commits big stores to reducing the
environmental impact of their shopping bags by 25 percent by the end of next
year. Government minister Ben Bradshaw called it an "ambitious"
agreement and noted that consumers had become "increasingly aware that
they can make positive choices to help the environment in the way they
Chance, spokeswoman for Sainsbury, a big supermarket chain, says a total ban is
unlikely at the moment. Sainsbury has tried bag-free days and promoting its
reusable "bag for life."
Chance says "it would be too radical to completely remove them. The
plastic bag does have a functional purpose in life. In cities a lot of people
don't have a car. Lots of people use it as a [trash] bag at the end of the day.
It's giving customers things that are practical." She said they did try
out biodegradable bags, but they weren't strong enough.
Harvey says that
Gordon Brown, poised to take over as prime minister next week, once declared
that governments "respond to the climate that people create." In
other words, as one wag once put it, in order to lead people in Britain, first find
out where they're going and then walk in front of them.
remains to be seen if enough people will move in this direction.
evidence would appear to show that those who bring their own bags to
supermarkets with them are still in a minority.
say they hope that by Christmas it will be "as fashionable to carry
plastic as it is to wear fur," but privately admit that they may have a
much longer wait.
Copyright 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.
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