As the carrier bag tax in England is into its third month retailers are starting to see the huge difference that a 5p levy on plastic bags is making. Tesco has reported an almost 80% drop in bag usage and M&S (who have been charging since 2008) have seen a 75% drop. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have had a tax on all types of bags for a few more years and are seeing similar results. Unfortunately England has watered things down a little by only making the charge applicable to plastic bags, and to retailers with over 250 employees, but it’s start.
If you have not previously been in the habit of using your own bags there are several tips that I have found work well for me.
Firstly, and most importantly, it’s remembering to always have a bag with you. Not all purchased will be planned so keep a bag handy for those unexpected times. If you have a car be sure to leave bags in the boot.
I find it best to keep all my reusable bags for shopping in one place near the front door so they are easily accessible. Make it part of your routine for leaving the house whether going to work or out for the day, keep one of the super light bags in your handbag or backpack, some of them even have clips to keep on the outside of your bag. BUT, and it’s a big but, like any reusable item, it’s positive environmental impact only comes from it being used a lot, before it is discarded or wears out. A study by The UK Environment Agency suggested a cotton bag should be reused 170 times to balance out its life cycle environmental cost.
Having a range of bags is also a great help. As a city dweller with no car, I have found that the amazingly light and colourful Ecosilk bags are perfect for my needs. I was given these as a gift from an Australian relative and I am always getting asked where I got them from. I am not aware of UK stockiest, so I recommend trying to get your Australian friends / relatives / visitors, to post or bring you some. Ecosilk bags are the same size as a traditional supermarket plastic bag and even have a loop to hook on the self-service packing station. For those without Australian connections a similar UK product is Onya bags made from recycled plastic bottles. They have a full range of bags and backpacks all super light and also very colourful. My favourite part of the Onya range is their fruit & veg bags. These are light net bags with a drawstring for your loose fruit / vegetables, or bakery items. They don’t weigh more than the shop provided plastic bags but mean that you won’t be coming home with loads of plastic you don’t need and often can’t recycle. Update July 2017; Onya are closing their UK business so these bags will soon be unavailable.
Travelling is also an important time to have your bags on hand, both in your luggage, and out and about. Especially as this is when you are more likely to be spontaneous. Today I used an Ecosilk bag to carry the front wheels of our friends buggy, these had to be taken off to turn it into four-wheel drive mode as we strolled along an Australian beach. Other uses in the 6 days we have been away include; to sit on in the park, as a washing basket, buying loose leaf salad (didn’t have my veg bags with me), packing toiletries, carrying swimwear and some actual food shopping.
So, happy shopping! But before you start buying reusable bags, I’d recommend you see what you already have hiding in cupboards and try to make use of these. You may be surprised by just how many bags you have lying around.