Most of us are guilty of using them.
Popping to the shops on the one occasion you don’t have your environmentally-friendly ‘bag for life’ to hand, you end up with a carrier bag from the store. But from next year, that is going to be at a cost.
Some stores, such as Marks & Spencer, have already introduced a small charge for single-use carrier bags and many more look set to follow suit – apart from small retailers who will be exempt, to prevent imposing burdens on start-up and growing businesses – when the 5p charge is introduced in Britain from October, 2015.
In 2012, more than seven billion single-use carrier bags were handed out in England by supermarkets. A 5p levy in Wales has shown significant success in reducing the number of carrier bags given out in the country by 75 per cent. Northern Ireland has also brought in a charge with Scotland set to do so this year.
We’re all mindful of the potential damage carrier bags can do to our environment. Carrier bags clog up landfill sites. If discarded irresponsibly, they clutter up our neighbourhoods and get caught up on tree branches. Most significantly, though, is the potential harm they pose to both marine and wildlife.
According to Carlton Smith, chief executive of Bradford Community Environment Project, plastic bags are a particular danger to sea life.
“There are now problems in the oceans because plastic bags break down to small bits and act like hormones changing the behaviour and the biology of fish,” he explains.
Carlton welcomes the bag charge introduction, believing it will encourage shoppers to re-use their environmentally-friendly bags, limiting the amount of plastic used.
He says one of the main problems with plastic is it never really degrades and can be potentially damaging to the marine environment.
“Any reduction of plastics, in my view is a good thing and there’s also the litter issue. You often see plastic bag trees after a windy day – any reduction is good for the environment,” he says.
Kevin Warnes, chairman of Bradford District Green Party, says: “I am completely supportive of a plastic bag charge.”
He wants to see it adopted across the board, with all shops, not just the larger stores, introducing the charge.
“The charge should apply to all plastic bags, regardless of who is providing them,” he adds.
Kevin, who was involved in an initiative six years ago to create a plastic bag-free zone in Saltaire, says a charge it will help reduce the use of plastic bags.
“We know it will drive down plastic bag use by approximately 90 per cent. We all know they (plastic bags) are causing widespread marine pollution and pollution of water courses,” he says.
“The main reason for restricting their use is to stop them ending up in water courses, storm drains and being swept out to sea because they are non-biodegradable and remain in the marine environment.”
Dipak Patel, of Saltaire Wines in Bingley Road, Saltaire, says he would now look at introducing the plastic bag charge in his business. “It helps the environment and anything you can do – we all try and recycle – you can all do more for the environment.”
Councillor Andrew Thornton, Environment, Sport and Sustainability on Bradford Council, welcomes the move but wants to see shoppers encouraged to re-use their bags rather than paying for plastic.
“I think it is a welcome move but what we want to do is encourage people to re-use shopping bags and have their own shopping bags that are more durable,” he says.
Zab Chughtai from The Biodegradable Bag Company Ltd based in Bradford, a family business with 30 years experience of producing bags which are recyclable, compostable and biodegradable for retail and industry, says they have seen a considerable increase in sales.
Zab says she doesn’t have an issue with the 5p charge for a plastic bag, but she does have an issue with us being told it’s a green move.
Bradford, she says, has a history of producing cotton and jute and Zab wants to see the money raised through the plastic bag charges being re-invested in innovative ways that allow us to be more self-sufficient with our waste and plastics in this country.
“I think the way forward is to encourage innovative British manufacturers to come up with an environmentally-friendly solution which creates labour and genuinely helps the environment,” she says.