“I don’t have to pay for my bags yet do I?”
“No sir, not until the 5th of October.”
“Can’t stand all this environmental crap, can you?.”
“Quite, that will be fifty-four pounds seventy pence please sir.”
Thus goes a frequent conversation with customers at the store I work in, unfortunately I am unable to voice my opinions on the subject to said customers as I am paid to give them good service not my personal viewpoints – which I doubt they want to hear.
I am pleased that the government is actually taking some action to reduce plastic bag use (even if they took their sweet time about it), though I would prefer it if they banned them altogether. Banning them completely may seem drastic, but contrary to what people wish to believe, we live in times where drastic action is not just necessary but inevitable if we are to prevent the collapse of our environment. We have already reached the point where any positive action taken is a decade too late; we need to act as a species immediately to protect our future and the future of the organisms we share this Earth with.
So why do we need to take action on plastic bags? Well, in my opinion one-use plastic carrier bags are the most awful invention mankind has ever produced (excepting perhaps the nuclear bomb, or, er – mustard gas, or thumb screws, or kitten-stompers, or cauliflower-cheese). It is not just the fact that they clog up drains, ditches, hedges and roadsides. It is not just that they look hideously depressing when hanging from trees or blowing across an empty town square. But when they eventually make their way to the ocean or any water body, they catch and kill animals, turtles eat them and choke to death, and they slowly degrade into small particles. These particles enter the food chain and build up in animals guts causing death by starvation or chemical poisoning, some plastics are carcinogenic, some of the animals we eat will have these particles inside of them.
Basically plastic bags are bad for a lot of things, but it not just the physical effects they have on the environment which puts them on the black list – it is the behavioral effects they have on us humans. They contribute massively to the creation of our current throw-away culture; a culture where things are made to last just months rather than years, where objects are used only once before going to land-fill, a culture where we do not even think about the consequences of our waste once it has left our hand and entered the bin (or more often, the floor). We need to make a fundamental ground-up shift in our attitude to the way we use food and the objects around us; recycling should be instinctive, waste-reduction should be an ethos in every home. This is a big change and many people have become so apathetic and neglectful concerning this aspect of their lives that it may be necessary to introduce laws to force us into action – seeing as people do not seem bothered about changing themselves until money is involved.
The funny thing is, people think that this new plastic bag charge is unreasonable because they have been ‘free’ up to now. Except they haven’t, they’ve not been even remotely ‘free’ to society; think of how many litter pickers have to be employed by local councils to keep streets and towns and roadsides clear of bags. Think of the costs to the water board who have to spend time and money on clearing sewers and drains of plastic bags. Think of the cost to the government when they have to build more, and bigger, and deeper land-fill sites to accommodate all the plastic bags (think of how much extra space would be available in land-fill if plastic bags did not exist). Think of how much oil has to go into producing the plastic to manufacture plastic bags – oil that could be used for fuel or making other, more useful plastic products (like deck-chairs). Think of how many organisms are killed directly or indirectly by plastic bags, organisms who play a vital role in our ecosystems, the same ecosystems that enable the production of our food and cycling of our water and soil and air. These all amount to enormous costs to society, costs that are felt in the prices of the things we buy and in our many taxes and our overall economy – as well as the aesthetic costs, which are just as important.
So we are already paying for our plastic bags, and this mere five pence extra is nothing compared to the current price – oh and it all goes to charity anyway so we can feel good about that (no really, think how those five pence’s will add up and provide considerable income to vital charities). If the percentage usage of plastic bags goes down in this country after the charge is introduced (which it will, as proved already in Wales) then we will have received back our five pence’s a thousand times over in no time at all as the costs to society I have listed are reduced in turn.
I do hope that this fee will encourage a shift in our thinking to get us using paper bags, re-usable bags and other alternatives (bio-degradable plastics are not yet exempt but may be in the future) – if we can start to change the way we think about how we use everyday things then that would be a step in the right direction – if it is not too late.