Here at Less Plastic HQ we are always looking for ways we can help reduce the amount of plastic pollution that ends up in the sea, and washing up on our beautiful local beaches.
We recently read that according to the Ocean Conservancy, plastic bags are the fourth most commonly found litter washed up on beaches. This statistic got us thinking about what a difference it would make if we could persuade people in local our town (Kingsbridge in South Devon) to give up single-use plastic bags for good.
Back in October 2015, the government finally introduced a 5p charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. However unfortunately the new regulations didn’t go far enough, and failed to make it compulsory for smaller retailers, which means the independent stores that line our high street are not obliged to charge for plastic bags.
The result of this is that we haven’t seen a significant reduction in the amount of plastic bags being handed out to customers in our town. In fact, we carried out some research among local retailers on our high street in May 2016 and found that on average approximately 2,700 plastic carrier bags are given out every week.
So why is this a problem? In case you aren’t already aware, here are a few of the key problems with plastic bags…
The problems with plastic bags
- Every single piece of plastic ever created still exists? With plastic there is no ‘away’.
- The average plastic bag is used for only 5 minutes, but takes up to 1,000 years to break down in the environment – which seems a high price for ‘convenience’.
- Most plastic bags aren’t recycled, they end up in landfill or the sea where they have a devastating impact on wildlife.
- More than 100,000 marine animals die every year after ingesting or becoming entangled in them – turtles, dolphins, and whales choke or starve by confusing plastic bags for jellyfish.
- Plastic bags break down into tiny toxic particles in our waterways and oceans where they are eaten by fish and enter our food chain.
- Even degradable/biodegradable bags are a problem and leave toxic chemicals behind.
These compelling reasons have prompted us to join forces a group of like-minded people to work on persuading local customers and retailers to make our town, Kingsbridge, plastic bag-free.
Here is our approach, which we hope may be useful to others who have similar ambitions to see their local towns go plastic bag-free.
Retailers: What can you do?
- Make the decision to become Plastic Bag Free and environmentally responsible.
- Display posters so your customers will not be surprised when they are not offered a single use plastic bag.
- Educate your staff to promote reusable bag options to all customers. Provide training to handle questions from customers and to pack customers’ purchases in their reusable bags.
- During any transition period, offer your customers a small discount when they bring their own bags. You get far more support that way than changing a fee for a plastic bag.
- Consider offering a ‘Borrow A Bag Scheme’ for local shoppers. Work with the local chamber of commerce to source a standard reusable bag for the town so each store can have a handful available to offer customers to borrow for free (or for a deposit) when they forget their reusable bag. Customers return them when they are next in town. There is often no need to sell customers yet more reusable bags that they already have at home so this is an alternative solution to offering disposable bags when people forget their own.
- If you must offer disposable bags, use paper from sustainable sources or certified compostable.
- Consider setting up a retailer purchasing collective to bulk buy the sustainable alternatives to overcome any cost barriers retailers may have.
Customers: What can you do?
- Always say ‘no’ to disposable plastic bags – this simple change in habit accumulates over time to make a huge difference.
- Commit to BYO reusable bag every time you shop – not difficult once it becomes habit.
- After you unpack your shopping, put your reusable bags back on the front seat of your car or at your front door so you won’t forget them the next time you shop.
- Keep a couple of compact reusable bags handy – in your boot, glove box, backpack, coat pocket or handbag – so you are always prepared for spontaneous purchases.
- If you buy one or two items just carry these loose. Ask yourself do you really need a bag?
- Start a conversation, tell at least 3 people why you are going plastic bag free and hopefully it will cause them to consider doing the same.
The great news is that in our town we currently have several stores that are already 100% plastic bag free, including Oxfam, Holland & Barratt, Lemon Velvet, Bella Borsa, Go Mobile, Healthwise, The Art Café and Mangetout. There are also several others that give out very few each month and are on the cusp of becoming plastic bag-free. However, we still have work to do to persuade the remaining stores to adopt the plastic bag-free ethos.
What we are doing to spread the plastic bag-free message
- Distributing postcards and posters detailing the ‘problems with plastic bags’ and ‘what you can do’ – to local stores, cafés and offices – to raise awareness of the issues.
- Getting press coverage in our local paper – click to view.
- Presenting our plan to the local chamber of commerce to request support from local businesses and local community.
- Inviting people to join our campaign, share ideas or give us feedback on our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Attending the local Farmers’ Market on 2nd July to continue raising awareness among local traders and shoppers.
- Continued plan to visit local stores and persuade more of them to join the plastic bag-free ranks until we reach a tipping point where we can prove this works and is the future for our town.
Have you tried making your town plastic bag-free? Do you have any tips you can share to help us, and anyone else reading this?
We’d love to hear some tips and success stories in the comments below to help keep us motivated! And if this post has inspired you to work on make your town plastic bag-free we’d love to hear about this too!
Finally, if you are feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the problem of plastic pollution, please remember that every repeated small action accumulates to make a big difference, or to quote a lovely thought-provoking Chinese proverb:
“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”