If Henry VIII had stashed a bag for life under his kitchen sink at Hampton Court it would still be there to this day. And if that thick polyethylene bag had found its way into the Thames you’d still be able to fish it out of the river five centuries later. Bags for life have become bags for the Ages. And our biggest retailers are dishing them out like there’s no tomorrow.
Today The Telegraph revealed the true extent of the farce that is the bag for life. In Britain we get through a whopping 1.5 billion of them every year. That’s almost 60 for each and every household in the UK. Tesco alone supplies the equivalent of 10 bags for every man, woman and child in the UK. Discount supermarkets are some of the worst offenders with Aldi recording a year-on-year increase of more than 60 per cent.
Bags for life are a complete con. First introduced in the UK by Waitrose in 1997, supermarkets have flogged millions of them in the name of the planet. Shoppers pay ten pence for the bag on the promise retailers will replace them free of charge.
In March this year German chain Lidl revealed less than one percent of bags are actually returned to its UK stores. The result? Ultra-thick plastic bags for life are used once or twice and then tossed into landfill or discarded in our waterways.
Whitehall is lightyears behind the rest of the world when it comes to stamping out plastic bags. In Nairobi’s Maathai Market a 2017 ban means those caught with carrier bags risk a date with the local magistrate. Retailers in Germany will soon have to remove all plastic shopping bags from their stores after the Bundestag grew tired of decades of toothless industry voluntary agreements. Sixty countries have already banned the bag. We need to follow them.
This month Sir David Attenborough told Chatham House that Britain is in the midst of a collective awakening when it comes to plastic. He’s right. The Great British Public are desperate to call a halt to the never-ending slurry of throwaway guff being pumped out by our most iconic retailers. We’ve had it with grocery guilt. We are crying out for something radically different.
The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats have rightly committed to banning plastic waste exports to the developing world in the new Parliament. This means as Britons we will soon be forced to deal with the lion’s share of the plastic waste we produce on our own shores.
Our inadequate plastic waste management system is already at breaking point. Being forced to deal with billions more bags for life will take our creaking infrastructure one step closer to oblivion.
In 2020 Whitehall must move to legislate for a complete ban on all plastic shopping bags in the UK. Statutory charges paid by the consumer, no matter how big, will do little to keep bags for life in the economy and out of the environment.
Supermarkets believe a price increase might be the answer but whether if you charge 10 pence, 50 pence or £1, they will almost always end up in the environment sooner or later. They simply need to go.
UK plc is one of the most powerful forces for innovation this country has ever known and our biggest supermarkets are so often a part of that. People buy what they are sold. It’s high time grocery retailers sold us something different.