British checkouts distribute nearly 13 billion plastic bags a year. These may contribute a mere 0.3% of our landfill, but it hasn't stopped the debate reaching the front pages. In February, the Daily Mail's 'banish the bag' campaign portrayed plastic bags as an environmental peril. The Carrier Bag Consortium staged an impassioned defence. But the bag is a symbol of the ills of our throwaway culture: we know it's bad, and cutting down should be easy, but still the bagging and the chucking go on.
Alistair Darling's proposed bag tax went down like a man with a plastic carrier for a parachute. Justin King at Sainsbury said it trivialised a complex issue. Defra said it would only encourage people to switch to other materials that may be worse. Paper-bag production and distribution make this alternative just as contentious, and biodegradable bags may increase CO2 from landfill. The answer is to cut down on use. The Chinese have banned shops from handing out free plastic bags (yet China is Europe's biggest carrier-bag supplier). Here, M&S has been the first to introduce charges. According to a Times survey, 72% of us prefer nurturing a change of behaviour to a 50p bag. This month, Sainsbury introduced reward points for re-users, and free bags for life. Seems like someone has a handle on it.
GREENIE POINTS (out of 10)
Five - get your customers re-using. - Dave Waller is MT's resident eco bag-carrier.