ShortList is supported by you, our amazing readers. When you click through the links on our site and make a purchase we may earn a commission. Learn more

Why a total ban - not 5p charges - is the only way to solve our plastic bag problem

We aren't going far enough

Why a total ban - not 5p charges - is the only way to solve our plastic bag problem
11 January 2018

I have a confession that I desperately need to get off my chest: I’m a bad recycler. I don’t separate my glass from my plastics, I don’t have a food waste composter and – worst of all – I sometimes buy 5p plastic bags.

I know, I know. This is completely unforgiveable, but there’s a reason I’m confessing these mortal environmental sins: I think it’s time the government banned all 5p plastic bags, if only to force lazy people like me to get their arses into gear.

This is why plastic waste is such an issue: every day millions of microplastics enter the sea from throw-away items like bags and personal care products such as scrubs and toothpastes. And in 2016, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish, according to the Guardian.

And as anyone who watched Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II knows, plastics are having a shocking impact on the world’s oceanic wildlife. The scenes of seas birds being destroyed by plastic waste were absolutely sickening to watch.

In an effort to get a grip on this issue, Theresa May earlier today announced a further clamp down on 5p plastic bags with a new proposal to extend the charge that currently affects supermarkets to stores with fewer than 250 employees. That means smaller retailers like corner shops will start charging customers for bags.

The Prime Minister said in her speech at London’s Wetland Centre: “Today I can confirm that the UK will demonstrate global leadership. We must reduce the demand for plastic, reduce the number of plastics in circulation and improve our recycling rates.

“In years to come, I think people will be shocked at how today we allow so much plastic to be produced needlessly.”

While this is of course a great step in the right direction, we need much more radical action. Why not get rid of the bags altogether and force people to take responsibility?

Reacting to May’s proposal today a WWF spokesperson agreed with the idea behind banning single-use plastic bags, saying: “We want to see a ban on single-use plastic by 2025, and more urgent action on dirty air, climate change and protecting our precious natural heritage.

“This could be a turning point for the UK’s relationship with the environment, where we begin to restore nature rather than destroy it. The plan is an important first step, but the commitments will only become a reality if they are backed by the force of law, money and a new environmental watchdog with the power to make sure the government lives up to its promises.”

People are still using plastic bags despite the 5p charges

Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven added: “The government should start by rolling out more robust and swift measures to stop plastic waste harming our oceans, clean up illegal air pollution and support the clean energy sources that can help stop climate change.

“If Theresa May wants to persuade people this is more than just husky-hugging, she needs to put some joined-up thinking at the heart of her strategy. You can’t claim to care about climate change and our countryside and then back fracking, or care about the next generation and then let air pollution harm our kids’ health.

“The environment is now a mainstream concern in this country, with millions of people caring deeply about it. Theresa May has a unique opportunity to rise to the challenge and make Britain a global leader in environmental protection. She should not waste it.”

I completely agree with the message of these environmental campaign groups and while we’re on the plastic-banning bandwagon, there are loads of other things the government could think about adding to the prohibited list:

  • Non-flushable wet wipes
  • Throw-away coffee cups
  • Excessive food packaging
  • Single-use plastic straws
  • Plastic party plates

In fact, we could go even further and bring about a much more revolutionary change in the way we live our lives in the UK. For example, Norway has a fantastic bottle deposit system that’s helped cut plastic waste in the Scandinavian country. And Sweden’s recycling system is so revolutionary and successful that the country had to import rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going.

Basically, banning 5p plastic bags (and lots of other needless plastic products) would be a really positive step in the right direction to getting a grip on the shocking levels of pollution our society currently produces.

And finally, if I haven’t managed to convince you by now, don’t take it from me but the big man himself: 

(Image: iStock)