City Hippy

The diary of our struggle to live a green and fair life.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

FEATURE: Plastic bag trees

I know the issue of plastic bags gets covered lots, even on this site (see here & here) but as Deputy Editor I have not said my piece on the topic so I just wanna stick my oar in and drum up some discussion on this issue.

I'm amazed at how littered our plant is with plastic bags. I don't know if I am looking at the world more aware than before or whether there actually has been a steady increase in the use of plastic bags - they seem to be EVERYWHERE.

On a particularly windy day recently I did happen to look up as the sun was out (at last!) and noticed how many bags were caught up in trees - hanging down as little reminders of how we are getting through SO MANY plastic bags - I did some digging around and got these numbers and hopefully this will be enough to shock just a few of you reading into contributing to this post, doing EVEN more and educating others to make a few changes.

  • The average length of 'service' of a plastic bag is twenty minutes!
  • They hang around on the planet for approx 500 to 1,000 years before degrading.
  • Apparently the average family grocery shop takes 12 to get the job done.
  • Over a trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide.
  • That requires 120 million barrels of oil!!!
  • Based on the recent cost of US$75 approx per barrel that means we spend US$9,000,000,000 (9 billion) a year on oil to produce plastic bags and that is without factoring in the production costs. US$9,000,000,000!!! What a waste of money.
I do re-use and recycle my bags wherever possible but I am exploring alternatives to combat the problem including Jute bags, string bags and even the more durable 'bags for life' available in most stores. Obviously the latter is not ideal but remains a better step than using the flimsy bags.

Am curious to find out what you use to do your shopping.

Cityhippy tells me he has added his reusable bags to flickr using the tag: cityhippyshoppingbags (see his images here). Perhaps you could upload pics (using the 'cityhippyshoppingbags' tag) of the reusable bags you shop with and we will then pull them all through in a flickr feed below.

An 'alternative to plastic shopping bags' gallery if you will.

HOT TIP: We find that the trick to avoiding having to use plastic is to keep your alternative bags to hand i.e. in the boot/trunk of your car, so that when you go shopping the bags are always to hand.

Oh yeah and there is a great Squidoo lens on 'How to live without plastic bags' which is worth a visit. Of course checking in with the CityHippy lens @ will ensure you keep on top of all the cool green lens we find ;)

Green hugs


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At 12:56 PM, Anonymous fragglemcpuff said...

In Ireland our behaviour was changed drastically overnight with the introduction of a 15c charge per plastic bag. Now practically every household has reusable bags and you rarely see the flimsy pests floating about on the street. It's amazing how something so small and simple can affect people so much.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Yeah gotta love Eire for doing that...was speaking to a checkout person today about that...such a good idea...

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Katie said...

I'm always trying to refuse plastic bags and to take cloth or string bags with me wherever I go (though I do sometimes forget and of course that is the time I need to buy something!).
The weird thing is that I am often made to feel a bit rude for refusing a plastic bag, or at least that I'm rather odd for using my own...I would have thought shops would be happy to save their bags!

At 10:53 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Katie

Yeah I often turn them down and people think I am nuts.

Once I took a reusable durable bag, collected all my vegetables in it instead of individually bagging them each in those pathetic flimsy bags, got to the checkout and made the checkout person process them all that way...she was not amused...was not trying to cause her grief...just did not want 50 pointless bags.

I once heard that in Denmark once store allows you to use your own containers and bags for everything...brilliant. Imagine packaging. Am sure Health & Safety would have a coronary though.



At 6:33 AM, Blogger David Tebbutt said...

I was reading a newspaper from Goa the other day and read that a law had been passed banning plastic bags.

Wondering if I remembered correctly, I searched on the topic and this is how one state is dealing with the issue:

"Under a new law, anyone found even using a polythene bag could face up to seven years behind bars or a fine of up to 100,000 rupees ($2,000). The new law bans the production, storage, use, sale and distribution of polythene bags."

At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Katie said...

Hi Al,

I did that yesterday (the veggie thing)! I had just bought a small bin for our living room and so put all the fruit and veg I was buying from our corner shop in that - oh and milk too! I think the assistant thought I was crazy, but at least she laughed!


At 9:33 PM, Anonymous Philder said...

I decided to count all the plastic bags in my kitchen cupboard a few weeks ago. I had 37! I live in a flat, so they tend to get used for bin liners, but not quickly enough to avoid an ever growing stockpile. Rather than just stuffing them in the recyling point at the local Tesco, I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment...based on each weekly food shop generating 2 bags (I live on my own), and my weekly "can't recycle" rubbish also usually being roughly two bags, I figured if I reused bags for shopping, the pile would slowly reduce as I used them for rubbish, ultimately getting to a balance point whereby bags acquired equaled bags used. Beyond that, I'm sure there's potential for just using scavenged bags for the rubbish and getting a bag for life type thing for the shopping.

I'd be very interested to find out how much the big supermarket chains actually spend each year on bags. I'm curious as to whether offering an incentive (reward points, discounts or whatever) to people reusing bags would be offset by the saving from not having to manufacture so many to start with. Ok, maybe not the most altruistic of schemes, but if big chains (supermarkets or otherwise) could be shown that rewarding reuse was profitable as well as more environmentally sound, I'm sure they'd leap on it.

At 10:02 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi David: Seems like the UK is a bit behind a few countries who are proactively dealing with the problem. Although 7 years in jail is a bit harsh for possession methinks. In this country you can commit murder and get less.

Hi Katie: So cool you did that too...must do it again. Glad she laughed. I think it is always important to work with them and engage with them instead of causing them grief. They are people just like us and often I find folks agreeing with me in these situations if I approach it right.

Namaste to you both


At 10:06 PM, Blogger City Hippy said...

Hi Philder

Great experiment...amazing isn't it. 37 of them lying around. Sheesh. So you have found a way to reach plastic bag equilibrium...nice ;)

I would imagine that the supermarkets spend a fortune on plastic bag production, logistics etc. Am sure they would be happy to drop that cost. But consumers would likely be unhappy en masse. Maybe.

I like the idea of incentives. Perhaps you could lose one schools voucher they all seem to give away for every 2 bags you use. And if you use none you get an extra 10 vouchers?

Any supermarkets reading this?




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