Aber Environment and Ethics

Kept and maintained by the Environment and Ethics Officer of the Guild of Students at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. All original posts and information provided here are the responsibility of the Environment and Ethics Officer, and are in no way taken to be those of UWA or the Guild of Students.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Ditching Plastic Bags

This Monday, at the Guild General Meeting at 6.15pm in The Joint, in the Union, I will be proposing a motion, seconded by Jenny from The Ethical Living Liason (TELL), for the Union shop to start charging for giving out plastic bags.

This would be a 5p charge for every plastic bag that a person takes with them, and the funds raised will go back into campaigning for environmental improvements in the Union and elsewhere on campus.

Plastic bags, in short, are the scourge of every environmentalist. Why? They are light, not easily recyclable, take hundreds of years to degrade, and are recklessly given away by shops for you to advertise where you've just bought whatever it is you've bought. Plastic bags are, as Michael Carmichael described it, humanity's worst invention. What I'll say on Monday evening will draw a lot on his essay in the November edition of The Ecologist - and the enduring characteristic of human forgetfulness associated with plastic bags.

We forget to bring our own bags when we go shopping. We forget that we already have dozens of bags stuffed in the cupboard under the sink and we don't need another one that 'may come in handy'. We forget that plastic is an oil-based material, and that oil isn't an infinite resource. We forget that all kinds of wildlife, especially marine animals, easily mistake plastic bags for food, and try to eat them - leading to their death. We forget that they don't decompose. We forget that if they are burnt they release all kinds of noxious fumes and chemicals.

So the 5p charge is really about helping people to remember. In my dream world, when people have to add 5p to their bill, they'll recall all these reasons and resolve never to take another bag. In reality, I think when most people have to add 5p to their bill, they'll scowl, be pissed off for a while....and pledge that they'll never be conned again and have to take another bag. Of course, the point is that most people won't have to add 5p because they won't take a bag. The point of the charge isn't to raise money, but to encourage greener behaviour.

This charge is about making it easy to be green, and making green the default option. No longer will only those for whom the environment is front-and-center say 'no bags, please', but everyone will, by default, be saying 'no bags, please' . You'll no longer have to fuss around and stop the shop assistant from shovelling the notepad and chocolate bar into a plastic bag. In the great scheme of things, this charge is about one small shop in a big big world. But every bag matters, and everytime resources are wasted, it matters. If it is a drop in the bucket, enough drops will fill up the bucket and cause it to overflow.

Other countries and societies have already begun to fill the bucket. In Ireland, a 15 euro cent tax on plastic bags saw consumption cut by 95% in the first year alone. In Bangladesh, they've been banned completely because they clog up the drainage system, contributing to more flooding in an already low-lying country. Across much of Europe, plastic bag charges are the norm rather than the exception. And the bucket is being filled by charges and taxes, rather than voluntary action, which is likely to be only limited to the green minority.

Do the green thing. Say no to the free plastic bag. Be at the GM Monday evening (please).


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