Archive for February, 2008

Disposable Plastic Bags… why we need to reduce them

February 19th, 2008 by Rosie

It is devilishly hard to avoid the huge amounts of unnecessary packaging, much of it plastic, that is foisted on us when we shop, but refusing the free carrier bag is one instance when we can easily reduce the amount of plastic we take home.

It is estimated that we each use between 167 and 250 plastic carrier bags per year (10 billion in the UK p.a.; over 1 trillion throughout the world: that equals to 1 million bags every minute; enough to carpet the entire planet in plastic every 6 months) and most of those bags will still be around long after our lifetime. In fact those bags in landfill will still be around long after our children’s, grandchildren and even great great grandchildren’s lives, by which time the mountain of plastic around the world will be suffocating the planet itself.

Already in the marine environment, plastic litter is responsible for killing well over 100,000 marine animals and birds each year either through entanglement or by ingestion. Plastic bags also take their toll. A bag floating in the water is easily mistaken for a jelly fish. Once the animal dies and decomposes, the plastic is released back into the environment to join the ever growing tide of plastic debris and ready to kill the next unsuspecting victim.

Through abrasion and sunlight, plastic in the environment degrades over time into ever smaller pieces, never disappearing completely, but ending up as microscopic plastic fibres that are in the air we breathe and in the sea that surrounds us. No one knows how long plastic remains in the environment but plastic produced at the dawn of the plastic age is still floating in the world’s oceans. Research in 2004 found microscopic plastic particles in every litre of sea water taken from the North Atlantic and in every sample of sand. Hundreds of years of destructive problems caused by something that we use for an average of 20 minutes.

In Guernsey, we are using well in excess of 10 million plastic bags per annum and while some are returned to recycling bins, the vast majority find their way to Mont Cuet where we can ill afford the space. Disposing of our plastic bags in a responsible way is no safeguard against our bag being one of the many that gets out into the environment. Bags of rubbish at the tip get split open by the working tractors or gulls. The coastal location of the tip makes light weight rubbish particularly vulnerable to the effects of the wind, and plastic bags act like kites once they fill with air. Consequently, on a windy day, of which we have plenty in Guernsey, the area around Mont Cuet is heavily polluted with plastic bags. Considerable time and money is spent on the fruitless task of clearing up escaped bags into large black sacks which then in their turn, split open to release their contents back out to the mercies of the wind. Our disposable culture might be convenient but the consequences certainly aren’t.

As well as the waste problems, there are significant energy implications in creating and transporting bags destined to be discarded the minute they have done their brief work, paper bags included. As world oil supplies continue to diminish, with Peak Oil either here or fast approaching, using disposable plastic bags is becoming an increasingly irresponsible use of a declining resource.

Unbelievably, it has only been 30 years that we have enjoyed the convenience of the disposable plastic carrier bag, but in that short time we have allowed ourselves to become utterly reliant on them, and the cost of that reliance will be felt for centuries unless we tackle the addiction now.

Many countries, cities and towns around the world are responding to this crisis and are banning the use of plastic bags outright; others are imposing taxes on them in the hope of drastically reducing the quantity of bags used. Some countries are treating plastic bags as the serious environmental menace that they have become, and not only impose fines, but also prison sentences for merely being in possession of one.

Guernsey also needs to address this issue. It is indefensible of us, as a comparatively wealthy community, to say that the convenience plastic bags offer us is more important than the problems caused by their liberal distribution.

Places Reducing Plastic Bags Use

February 19th, 2008 by Rosie

Beneath is a list of places, countries and communities, that are already taking action against plastic carrier bags, some with an outright ban and others by levying a charge.

In many of the African and Asian countries, they are taking the issue so seriously that they are not only banning the free distibution of plastic bags, but also the production, importation, sale, storage, distribution and even possession of plastic bags and there are strict penalties for violators. Those who commit an infraction face heavy fines and even imprisonment.

Rwanda – 2006

Uganda – 2007

Kenya – 2007

Tanzania – 2006

South Africa 2003

Zanzibar – 2006 – a $2,000 fine or imprisonment or both.

Paris -end of 2007

France – 2010

San Francisco – March 2007

Leaf Rapids, Manitoba – April ‘07

Coles Bay – Australia

Collingwood – New Zealand

Germany -charges approx. 30p for plastic bags at the till.

Finland – supermarkets charge levy on plastic bags used.

Denmark – tax on all packaging.

Bhutan-1999

Bangladesh – 2002

Bombay – August 2005

Taiwan – Jan 2003. Also disposable plastic cutlery, cups and plates.

Himachal Pradesh – just possession = prison or R25,000 fine.

Maharastra – banned manufacture, sale & use of plastic bags – 2005

Goa – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Sikkim – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Rajhastan – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Punjab – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Delhi – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Bangalore – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Darjeeling – Banned disposable bags irrespective of thickness – 2001

Modbury, Devon – 2007 – a vountary ban led by the retailers.

30 villages in Alaska including Emmonak, Galena, and Kotlik.

Japan – Draft plans made to forbid the free distibution of plastic bags.

London – 33 councils voted to ban them Nov. 2007 but have still to get it through the Government.

Australia – 2008

China – 2008

Plastic Bag facts

February 19th, 2008 by Rosie

One hundred thousand animals die each year from plastic. After an animal dies from ingesting plastic the body decomposes and the plastic is then released back into the environment to kill another animal.

46,000 pieces of plastic debris floats on or just below the surface of every square mile of the world’s oceans.

47% of wind borne litter that escapes from landfill is plastic, and the majority of that is plastic bags.

It takes 500 years for a plastic bag to decay in landfill.

UK consumers use an estimated 10 billion plastic bags a year – that’s 167 per person according to DEFRA –

1 trillion plastic bags used worldwide every year. That is:

* 1 million every minute

* enough to carpet the entire planet every 6 months.

Guernsey uses over 10 million plastic bags per year.

British Retailers spend £64 to £80 million yearly on providing free plastic bags to customers.

Cutting plastic bag usage in Britain by just a quarter would reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 63 tons a year – equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off the road.

During Beachwatch 2006, 7,476 plastic bags were found on 358 beaches; an average of 40 bags / km.

0.5: the percentage of plastic bags returned for recycling in the UK.

90% of plastic ever made still exists today

Plastic bags are used on average for 20 minutes.

WHO publishes an economic appraisal of health effects related to walking and cycling

February 8th, 2008 by Richard Lord

The World Health Organisation publishes “Methodological guidance on the economic appraisal of health effects related to walking and cycling.”