I took my 6 year old daughter Christmas shopping the other week. We went to Lush, the hand made cosmetics company, looking for a gift for her mother. She was in heaven: the bright colours, the smells, the glitter and the pretty shapes of the soaps and bath bombs. There was no difficulty in choosing a gift for mother (especially one she might share), the only problem was deciding to stop!
At the checkout, the gifts were packed in an attractive paper bag, along with a newspaper advertising Lush's products - another hit with daughter. Then she left the shop with a smile from ear to ear, clutching at her bag of goodies and feeling so grown up.
It is really fantastic that none of the packaging is plastic. I expect the paper packaging uses a significant proportion of recycled material to make it and it is completely recyclable in most places. Even if it isn't recycled, the bag will biodegrade in a relatively short timescale or it can even be composted with garden waste. But it is bulky and heavy and is still only used once. Each bag is several times the weight of a plastic bag so more fuel is used to transport them and the recycling process, from collection through processing to manufacture of a new bag uses a lot of energy. Once all our energy is renewable, this won't be a problem but we are not there yet.
As highlighted in an article in the Guardian last week, the issue with bags is their single use disposable nature rather than what they are made from. The article also refers to a previous study which comparing re-usable fabric bags with plastic bags and found that the fabric bags needed to be used 131 times to have less impact than plastic bags. I normally use a small rucksack instead. It is heavier than the fabric shopping bags and is fine for everyday purchases. So far it has lasted for around five years of being used on most days and it is still going strong. It certainly used more energy to make than lightweight alternatives but it has generated much less waste.
In short, if the it was more convenient for us to take our own bags rather than take ones given out by the retailer then we could change our habits. Taxing bags won't help. A high tax would be unpopular with voters, hence unpalatable to the politicians that would implement it; a low tax would be ineffective because many would find it easier to add the 10p or 20p onto the shopping bill while grumbling about it. Banning the bag is the only answer.
And on that cheery note, I bid you all a Merry Christmas and remember the left overs can be frozen for later.
All the best from the Eco Warrior in Me.
Some twitter folks against single use plastic bags:
and a petition by @bythe95 and @No2PlasticBags : http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/12786