If we needed proof of how effective charging for carrier bags can be as a way to cut down on the numbers being given out by shops, the people of Scotland have provided it!
A charge of 5p per bag has been charged by shops in Scotland since 20 October 2014 and in that time, stores have handed out 650 million fewer bags - that's a massive 80% reduction on the numbers that were being given out when they were free of charge.
The average useful life of a plastic bag in the UK (before the 5p charge was introduced, anyway!) was just 20 minutes. Charging for bags has clearly changed people's buying habits, with more use of re-usable shopping bags.
The Scottish government estimates that 4,000 tonnes of plastic and other materials has been saved in the last year.
With a 5p charge now mandatory for plastic bags in England (it was introduced on 5 October 2015), it will be interesting to see whether English shoppers manage to equal the Scots for saving plastic by 5 October 2016! In the last year, English shoppers used over 7 billion plastic bags!
So called 'single use' plastic bags have long been a problem in the environment. Bacteria that will break down organic matter like wood, grass and food scraps won't even try to digest plastic, so it tends to stay where it's put. Exposure to sunlight will cause 'photodegradation', which gradually causes the plastic to break up into smaller pieces, but it never really disappears.
We have become so accustomed to using plastic carrier bags that changing people's shopping habits is a real challenge. If the results from Scotland and Wales (which introduced charging for plastic bags in 2011) are anything to go by, then it seems that the 5p charge might just be the way to get people to take re-usable bags with them when they go shopping.
You can find out more about the problem of plastic by downloading the latest issue of Conservation Education.
Photo by Samuel Mann