It seems politicians around the world are finally waking up to the horrors of the plastic carrier bag – but where is the UK action?

A few days ago, the government in China ordered a ban on the production, sale and use of ultra-thin bags which will take effect in June. After that, supermarkets and shops will be banned from giving free plastic bags to customers although they will still be able to sell the bags.

The government’s website says: “Our country consumes a large amount of plastic bags. The bags lead to a severe waste of resources and environmental pollution because of their excessive use and low rate of recycling. The ultra-thin bags are the main source of ‘white’ pollution as they can easily get broken and end up as litter.”

Prior to the ban, there had already been public action in China over the issue. On Earth Day last year, an organisation known as the Plastic Bags Reduction Network called upon Chinese shoppers to cut their plastic bag consumption in half.

The group estimates that shoppers in Bejing alone use nearly 10 billion plastic bags per year (that’s an amazing 27 million bags per day) and its volunteers (pictured) already go around the streets collecting discarded bags.


To get some idea of the scale of the problem worldwide, check out this video

n the USA, the City Council of New York has just announced legislation that requires large retail outlets to set up carrier bag recycling schemes.

The rules will apply to stores over 5,000 square feet or companies that have more than five branches in the city. Shops will have to provide collection bins for plastic bags in visible locations and their bags will have to carry a recycling message. All shops will have to submit an annual report to the council showing how many bags they have taken back.

Sadly, in the UK, schemes to reduce plastic bag use are still voluntary and although some large chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s undertake their own projects to cut the use of throw-away bags, there is nothing to force retailers to take action.

A government initiative launched last year aims to reduce the impact of carrier bags by 25 per cent by the end of 2008. (Unusually, the agreement covers all types of carrier bags, including paper, because the government wants to encourage shoppers to adapt to a re-usable bag.)

In Ireland, there has been a levy on plastic carrier bags since 2002. However, the UK government says it currently has no plans for a tax – although it is watching the situation in other countries.

Last year, the Green England organisation launched a petition calling on the UK government to introduce a tax of 10p per plastic bag. It says every bag lasts up to 400 years and spends most of that time in a landfill site or strewn across the British countryside.


It says the Irish levy led to a 90% drop in plastic bag use, and has raised 3.5 million Euros for environmental projects. You can sign the petition online here

As you might expect, the plastic bag industry is totally opposed to any tax or levy. It argues that it would have a harmful effect on the environment and says research in Ireland has shown that greater amounts of plastic are now being used because people are using bin liners and rubbish sacks (which are exempt from the levy) for their shopping.
It also says that any UK tax on plastic bags could cause a switch towards paper bags, which use more energy in production and also release methane when degrading in landfill.




  1. 1 frankschulteladbeck January 14, 2008 at 11:05 am

    Thank you for the information. You may have heard that the city of San Fransisco has banned these bags, and that the chain Whole Foods has announced plans to end its offering of this product. Personally, I carry a fabric bag into stores for my goods, but this does cause some stares. Even with all of the news on this topic, many people still do not see this type of bag as a problem.

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