Should we ban plastic bags?

Plastic Free Chesterfield held a webinar with Planet Patrol on Wednesday 21st July. You can see the recording here. Here’s what we learnt:

  • 2.1 billion plastic bags were sold in 2019, with a lot more in 2020 & 2021 due to Covid and the increase in online deliveries. This is nearly 6 million every day

  • The issue with plastic bags:
    • Plastic bags are in the top 10 items of litter found around the UK
    • Plastic bags are dangerous to wildlife. Turtles mistake them for jellyfish. Cows have eaten them.
    • Plastic bags are finding their way dumped in other countries, e.g. Kenya where mosquitoes are breeding spreading malaria
    • Plastic bags have a carbon impact, using oil (fossil fuel) burnt to make them, contributing towards climate change

  • There has been a recent increase in plastic bag charges from 5p to 10p and this has reduced sales, however Bags for Life sales have increased
  • One supermarket saw an almost ten-fold increase (3.5m to 34m) from 2018-19
  • The average household brought home 57 Bags for Life in 2019 alone
  • Bags for Life contain three times as much plastic as the single-use version and require up to four times as much carbon to produce, yet they are marketed as an eco-friendly option

  • People don’t seem to be deterred by a charge on Bags for Life and are using them as a direct alternative to single-use thinner bags (not promoting reuse)
  • As Bag for Life sales increase, we need to see reporting on these too – only four major retailers have reported figures
    • Planet Patrol made a Freedom of Information request to DEFRA on this but were denied this information. Following this they went to supermarkets who said the information was commercially sensitive – something they are hiding?

  • For the 10p charge for the thinner bags, supermarkets are expected to donate proceeds to charities, however Bags for Life are exempt from this. Because the thinner bag sales are decreasing, charity proceeds are decreasing

  • Supermarkets have stopped selling thinner plastic bags and Bags for Life – e.g. The Co-Op (who are using compostable bags) and Morrisons (who are using paper bags)
  • Some supermarkets are using home-compostable bags (bags that can break down in your home compost bin)

  • Planet Patrol has launched ‘The Big Bag Ban’, calling for:
    • An outright ban on plastic bags, including the single-use thin plastic bags AND the thicker Bags for Life.
    • Full, transparent reporting from all retailers and government on the sale of all bags, as well as a breakdown on how proceeds are used
  • 40 countries in the world have introduced a ban on plastic bags, so the UK can do the same.
  • What are the solutions? A deposit-return scheme at supermarkets? A bag drop-off point similar to a foodbank drop-off point? Planet Patrol doesn’t have all the answers but with other countries implementing a ban, there is always a way.

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