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The Urban-Rural Hub Around Faringdon                                   16-23 June 2012

Free Carrier Bags?


While carrier bags continue to be given away for free – people WILL continue to take them. Faringdon ECOWEEK  is our target date to put in place measures that  really will change our habits. 


  I AM A CONSUMER                   I AM A  RETAILER

(you can also view summary of responses received so far. Consumers  -   Retailers )  


Generally, all the different “ban-the-bag” campaigns can be quite confusing – and sometimes confused. The notes below
might help to clarify what we’re trying to achieve with our Ban the Bag Campaign in Faringdon.            

Targeting single-use carrier bags - Just Tokenism? An easy argument to make – and an easy excuse for doing nothing. Yes- bags are just a small percentage of the total packaging used in the retail trade, and just a small percentage of our wastefulness in what goes to landfill. But they’re very visible and have almost become symbolic of our unnecessary wastefulness (laziness?) – and they’re as good a place to start as any. If we can’t even deal with our addiction to free bags – then how can we even begin to tackle all the bigger culprits? If we continue to take free bags then we certainly lose the moral high ground when tackling suppliers on excess packaging - for example. But if it were the only thing you did then it would indeed just be generating a bit of feel-good - and little else.

Charging for ALL bags? What about food bags – the kind that you get at the cheese or meat counter and the kind that keeps your fish fresh? And what about gift bags – the kind that adds the finishing touches to that special gift? No – there is no campaign to charge for bags used for hygiene or longevity (these reduce food spoilage, and therefore on balance reduce the overall carbon footprint).  And there’s also no campaign to charge for gift bags – often an important part of the gift either for protection or presentation. However - it IS frightening how much wrapping goes to landfill after Christmas - so cutting down is not such a bad idea! And - what about those shops that use only 2nd hand bags - such as The Mustard Seed and the two Charity shops? This might be a case for voluntary donation pot to an ecofund perhaps.

Plastic Fantastic? Many ban-the-bag campaigns demonise plastic carrier bags – thus by implication encouraging other bags (eg paper) as environmentally friendly alternatives. Some campaigns also differentiate between the traditional plastic and the corn starch plastic (eg COOP bags) – again implying that the latter is OK. This is a BIG subject – but in summary, all of these bags have a very similar ecological footprint over their lifetime (for example: paper bags take much more energy and chemicals to make initially). Plastic is actually a VERY sensible material to make LONGLIFE bags from - as long as you don’t throw them away! It’s NOT the material that we should be demonising. It’s the single-use that is bad – it’s people’s habits that we have to change.  In other words – there should be a charge for ALL single-use carrier bags, including those made from paper or corn starch or jute or bamboo or hemp - (they all take energy to make!) . Think of it as a “carbon tax”.

Swing Bin Bag Liners, Nappies & Dog Poo? Another common argument. Some people do  use their plastic bags as kitchen bin bag liners or for dog poo – and therefore if they didn’t get their stock of free carrier bags then they’d have to buy more bin bags to make up for this.  So – banning free carrier bags wouldn’t actually achieve any environmental benefits - they say. There IS a small element of truth in this – but various studies have shown that less than 5% of supermarket bags are actually re-used in this way. The rest are thrown away and not used a 2nd time.  Perhaps it’s a spurious argument anyway - because even the bags that are used twice end up in landfill. In the Netherlands, where people are particularly fussy about cleanliness, they tend not to use bin liners and instead wash out the bin every now and then. And where bin liners or poo bags ARE needed then this is a good case for the biodegradable corn starch bags. If they contain just organic matter then these - bags plus contents - can be thrown on the compost heap rather than go to landfill.

I’ve already paid for the bag in the price of the goods I buy - so why shouldn’t I take them? An odd reason for doing nothing - but commonly used. Yes - it’s absolutely true. There’s no such thing as free bags, or free packaging for that matter. UK shoppers pay approximately 1billion per year (yes - that’s right - that’s 17 per person!) in higher product prices for the 10 billion bags given out (yes - that’s just in the UK!) - and this is another VERY good reason why we should try to reduce  this staggeringly large number.


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