Change Alley

information, opinion, conversation

Bags for Better Lives

with 7 comments

There’s been much rejoicing and back-slapping recently in the London Borough of Merton, satellite state of the People’s Republic of Suburbia. The Wimbledon Park area of Merton is set to be the first part of London to go plastic bag free with the launch of  Sustainable Merton’s Bags for Better Lives initiative.

As part of the project, volunteers have been knocking on every door and handing a fairly traded cotton shopping bag designed by the Bags for Better Lives team, and a second fairly traded cotton bag from The Co-operative’s Wimbledon Park food store, to every one of approximately 3,000 households in the ward. The volunteers are asking residents to use their new bags every time they go shopping and to support a ban on throw-away plastic bags. Says ‘The Guy From Sustainable Merton‘:

“Around 9,000 plastic bags are handed out by traders in Wimbledon Park each week. If the initiative achieves a 50% reduction in bags issued, about 234,000 fewer plastic bags will be used each year. If the reduction is 75% bag consumption will fall by 351,000. Traders’ annual spending on throw-away bags could be cut by £8,000-£12,000. Even if not every retailer abandons plastic bags immediately the environmental impact will still be significant.”

Great news, but why has it taken so long for an initiative like this to reach London? Many other countries around the world are years ahead of us:

  • Australia is calling for a phase-out to start by the end of 2008
  • Bangladesh banned all polythene bags in the capital Dhaka in 2002
  • Bhutan banned bags in 2002
  • China banned production of ultra-thin bags in January this year, and will ban their use in supermarkets and shops from June
  • Eritrea has had an outright ban since 2005, with fines for anyone imprting, producing, distributing or selling plastic bags.
  • France plans an outright ban by 2010
  • In India, six states have bans or are considering them. Mumbai banned bags in 2000 and Himachal Pradesh banned ultra-thin bags in 2003
  • Ireland imposed a plastic bag tax in 2002, reducing use by 90%
  • Italy imposed a levy in 1998, with an outright ban to be introduced by 2010
  • Kenya and Uganda banned thinner bags and imposed a levy on thicker ones in 2007
  • Papua New Guinea banned the import, manufacture and sale of plastic bags in 2004
  • Rwanda and Somalia banned bags in 2005
  • South Africa banned ultra-thin bags in 2003
  • Switzerland requires supermarkets to charge for bags
  • Taiwan banned bags in 2003
  • Tanzania banned their import and manufacture in 2006

Do you notice a trend here? It’s the developing nations who have introduced outright bans, while developed countries rely on taxes to discourage use, if they’re doing anything at all. The UK has traditionally used ‘encouragement’, or ‘discouragement’ depending on how you look at it, to reduce bag usage. Even in the face of mounting disquiet over the environmental problems caused by these unnecessary trinkets, the UK government’s ‘toughened’ stance involves putting pressure on retailers to follow Marks and Spencer’s lead and charge customers for bags.

Gordon Brown gives supermarkets one year to start charging for plastic bags … or else

M&S to roll-out charging for food carrier bags across UK – All profit donated to national environmental charity

Why does every environmental measure have to come down to money? Why does the UK government take such a determined stance on issues of personal liberty such as ID cards and detention without charge, yet show such timidity with regard to telling people how they should carry their shopping home? Why haven’t we got the courage to just say “These things are bad for the environment, they’re a waste of precious resources, they’re totally unnecessary, they’re banned”?

Or, as Sir Alan Sugar might say, “You’re a waste of space. You’re fired”.


Written by Pete Smith

May 11, 2008 at 10:00 am

Posted in Campaigns, Pollution, Waste

Tagged with , , , ,

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Agreed Pete!

    Have you read this article from the Independent?

    It’s not about paying the higher taxes and continuing with the polluting lifestyle. It’s about the higher taxes hopefully making us change our enviro-behaviour. We’ll never reduce our emissions if we just keep riding the green taxes (and moaning about it).


    May 13, 2008 at 2:49 pm

  2. Why indeed. Scared of the CBI, the IoD? Who knows. I’ve also started wondering why non-rechargeable batteries aren’t banned. Rechargeables make so much more sense. They pay for themselves after the first recharge!


    May 14, 2008 at 7:58 am

  3. Ah, rechargeables. They’re a lot like compact fluorescent lightbulbs, promoted as an identical product to the old polluting products, when they actually perform very differently. There’s a whole raft of reasons why people find they need to keep a pack of old-fashioned AA batteries in a drawer.Until battery design makes a leap or two forward, that will probably continue to be the case.

    Pete Smith

    May 14, 2008 at 9:06 am

  4. earthpal, disappointing but not surprising. Some of the green PR hasn’t been too clever over the years, all doom and gloom rather than emphasising the benefits of lifestyle changes. And it’s hardly surprising that people have this hangup about the personal money cost of green measures when market forces seem to be the only way the government can think of to influence things. It’s a shame, especially when recent US developments show how price rises can influence consumer decisions for the better; SUVs being traded in for small commuter models, use of public transport going through the roof.

    Pete Smith

    May 14, 2008 at 9:17 am


    The above piece is really great news. Boris Johnson aims to reduce the usage of thin plastic bags to nil by 2010 and everyone should follow the example set above, well done people!


    January 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  6. […] here of how other countries are dealing with the problem of thin plastic bags.  And read here what Merton in Wimbledon did to reduce their usage of thin plastic […]

  7. A handbag or purse in American English, is a handled medium-to-large bag that is often fashionably designed,.`

    Isopropyl Alcohol :

    October 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: