It’s hard to get away from them. They’re a ‘convenience’ item used by shops and especially supermarkets round the world. We take them for granted, without thinking about their disadvantages.
Usually that is, but here in Seattle, where we are staying just now, with our daughter Chloe and her husband Henry, things are different.
Plastic bags are easily discarded, hard to recycle when mixed with other items and disfigure the environment, as they never rot down. In New York amazingly 100,000 tons of them are disposed of in landfill sites every year at an annual cost of $10 million. (Source: New York Times, 18 May 2013)
Over the years we’ve been visiting Seattle, we’ve often been offered a choice of paper or plastic bags at the supermarket checkout. In 2007 the City Council tried to introduce a 20 cents charge on each bag, but the American Chemistry Council financed a referendum in the city, which voted out the ‘bag tax’.
Times change though and attitudes too. When a new scheme was proposed in 2011 by the City Council, it went through unopposed (New York Times, 20 December 2011) and was implemented exactly a year ago on 1st July.
Plastic bags are now outlawed in the supermarkets and shops of Seattle and a minimum 5 cents must be charged for each large paper bag. The purpose of this is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Full details of the scheme can be found here.
“Is it working?”, I asked Sarah Jane one of the assistants at Trader Joe’s supermarket this week. “Yes, we’re seeing a big difference”, she replied, “we now have to order in 50% less paper bags than a few months ago; and of course plastic is not allowed.”
The new law has been successful with us too! The photo opposite shows our return to the house with four reusable bags, full of food and produce from Trader Joe’s for the week.
Several other US cities have already or plan to adopt similar schemes. Could a scheme like this work in the UK? Do we also need a change of culture to recognise the need? Comments or information on this question would be very welcome.