Now there’s a surprise…
Despite the introduction in 2014 of the plastic carrier bag charge and numerous campaigns to tackle the problem of litter in Scotland, a recent study carried out by The Industry Council for research on Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN) reports that carrier bag litter is up 38%. The study would seem to indicate that charges have not affected the behaviour of people who are determined to litter anyway.
Lightweight plastic bags are the most inexpensive, convenient, and cost-effective way to protect groceries from damage and contamination and get them home from the shops, they are also the most maligned. Carrier bags represent under 0.5% of the total litter count, and yet the carrier bag has become the symbol of plastic waste worldwide.
However, there is an alternative. A little research prior to the charge would have revealed that plastic bags, especially oxo-biodegradable (controlled-life) plastic bags are better for the environment than paper, cotton/jute, compostable and conventional re-usable plastic bags, when water, energy, transport, land use, and emissions are factored in.
Carrier bags made from oxo-biodegradable plastic technology are indistinguishable from conventional plastic bags for all intents and purposes. They are as strong, lightweight, waterproof and flexible, and they can be recycled along with conventional plastic. However, there is one very important difference. They will not be around for decades.
A special additive, included in the manufacturing process causes the plastic to convert, at the end of its useful life into biodegradable materials, which will degrade and biodegrade the plastic in the outdoor environment, in the same way as a leaf only quicker, leaving nothing behind. No toxic residues or fragments of plastic.
This technology is already being utilised in several countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East because they realised it was not possible to collect all the plastic waste. They have therefore legislated to make its use mandatory. Switching to oxo-biodegradable plastic for carrier bags and packaging is simple because it can be made in existing plastic factories with the same workforce and machinery at little or no extra cost.
Litter is a global problem and has to be tackled in several ways, including educating the public to be more responsible and tougher penalties for careless disposal, but somewhere in the mix there has to be pragmatism. Switching to oxo-biodegradable plastic makes sound environmental and economic sense, because it allows the shopkeepers and consumers to keep the best product for the job, without the environmental baggage associated with it.
Perhaps it is time for a rethink?