Monday, October 5, 2015

It's not just about the plastic bag...

As the new law on charging 5p for a plastic bags comes into force today, there is definitely reason for celebration. There is no question that plastic bags are outright bad for the environment. Lightweight plastic bags are often only used once, but  can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Plastic bags are recyclable but the general curb side collection does not usually accept them and will prevent people from recycling them. In order to recycle plastic bags you need to find out where the recycling point is, then collect the bags, and potentially drive all the way to drop them off. Instead, more than 8 billion plastic bags in Europe end up used for random bits of ‘wet rubbish’ discarded with general waste which often means that they end up in landfill.
As off today, supermarkets will make it more difficult for their customers to walk out with a shopping cart full of disposable bags by charging them five pence per bag. The government has high hopes for the outcomes as they predict they will be able to save millions of pounds on litter clean ups as well as generate money for ‘good causes’.

There is no doubt that this move has been long over due.
Countries like Rwanda and Somalia have banned plastic bags completely. Ireland led the European revolution on plastic bags by introducing a charge of 12p per bag in 2002, which resulted in 95% reduction in the use of plastic bags within a year. Their levy is used to finance the Environment Fund which supports research in waste management and other environmental projects. The rest of Britain have been on board for a few years already with Wales seeing reduction in plastic bags usage by 79% in the first three years.

So overall this is no doubt a positive move. But the question is: Should we stop there? At the moment the charge only applies to bags with handles, and all the food packaging is exempt. We know just how bad plastic is for the environment, whether it has handles or not so why is there no law to eradicate those as well?
I used to use plastic bags instead of a bin liner. As a skint student, it made more sense to me to collect a free plastic bag with my shopping and use it instead of bin liners which cost my ever depleting student loan. Both bags are made of thin plastic so there really isn’t any difference in them.   

I have started to develop more of an awareness of the impact that single use plastic (SUP) has on the environment. I got myself cotton bags for life and I thought that I was going to reduce the use of plastic bags in my life.  I would take the 'life bag' to the shop with me, fill it with shopping and skip home. I didn’t have any more bin liners so I had to buy some new ones (and essentially doing exactly what I was trying to eradicate i.e. buying more plastic in a different form) because I had to put my rubbish somewhere!

That is when I started to realize that the reduction of plastic bags is just the beginning. The real problem was what goes into it (or the bin liner for that matter) and that is- rubbish. I have noticed that all of my shopping was wrapped in packaging. The whole chicken I bought for a Sunday roast came wrapped in thin plastic film on a plastic tray, a bag of pasta was packaged in an essentially plastic bag and the sliced bread was packaged in guess what...plastic!

All of those and more such as food waste, packaging, hygiene products, tubs from creams and make up, random bits of bric –a brac all ended up in my plastic bag/bin liner waste bin. I recycled what I could but there was so much of my weekly shop that just wasn’t recyclable.  I went through all of my cupboards to try and see just how much of the packaging can be recycled and I was horrified at the result.

As I do a lot of adventure cycling and walking, this issue became even more obvious. Often, you have to take food and water for a few days. Most of the food comes in some sort of packaging which results in a pile of rubbish that you have to drag along with you as there isn’t anywhere to dispose of it. When you have your dinner in the middle of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland, the rubbish that you produce just looks outright ugly and you feel as if it has no place in an environment like that.  

I love the great outdoors and I travel to see these breath taking places, yet I eat food and drink water inside packaging which threatens the same eco-system and environment that I came to see. This realisation was a real spur for me to do something about the amount of waste that I am producing.

Our lives are so dependant on supermarket shopping and packaged goods that it it incredibly difficult to detangle yourself from this plastic mess if you want to make a positive change. Food, hygiene products and cosmetics, clothes, electronics and pretty much everything that we use all come in packaging due to health and safety laws and often consumer habit. These and other items are all the things we rely on to live and survive to a point.

There are however pioneers that have managed to reduce their waste regardless of how difficult it is. A family of four in California have adopted the ‘Zero Waste’ lifestyle to a point where their yearly rubbish fits into a jam jar, all whilst living a 'modern lifestyle'.  

So giving up the plastic bag is just a beginning. Join me on this journey as I try to reduce the amount of trash that I produce all whilst trying to live my life as I normally would.


1 comment

  1. Great article Dom - I'd love to see how you get around all the seemingly unavoidable waste that comes with consuming...almost everything x