British recycling woes

British Recycling Woes 061115 400x

Photo credit: Zainub Razvi

Last month, England introduced new legislation that requires supermarkets to stop providing free single use plastic bags at the till and to charge at least 5 pence for the biodegradable ones. Until now, you were already able to buy these alongside the free ones, but now the latter have been removed from circulation altogether in most supermarkets.

The media was all over this of course, with the usual trash popular newspapers spreading their own brand of fear-mongering with predictions of supermarket queues, confused shoppers and possibly riots. One headline in particular made me laugh by stating in a tone of despair that in order to avoid the 5p charge, people would be ‘forced to bring their own bags.

‘But that’s the POINT!’ I wanted to shout.

England is actually a bit late in the game. Wales implemented the same policy in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. I can’t help but feel that the negative publicity, in light of the ecological blight that plastic bags are on the environment, and the cost to retailers to provide them, to be badly misjudged.

There are many times when I have felt in tune with English people in my reactions to various news and events but in this instance, I have observed and experienced the media storm generated by this nationwide change as an outsider, because it has been years (at least since 2005) that France has taken this policy. I will admit, it has been a shock to turn up at the till in French supermarket and be forced to put all my shopping back in the trolley without bags because not only do they not supply any, but they don’t tend to sell the biodegradable ones at the till either. I don’t know where they sell them in fact. I sure can never find them when I am desperately trying to carry 4 tins of tuna, a massive box of corn flakes, two baguettes and a bottle of wine (and don’t forget the string of garlic round my neck) with my bare hands. You are expected to come prepared and provide your own bags.

So what. It’s a great opportunity to change bad habits and to train myself, not only to keep bags in the truck of my car, but also to remember to take them out to go to the shops. Right now, even that is beyond my brain to remember but I am hopeful. Even better, I should stop using plastic altogether and bring the rafia and hemp bags out. I suspect I will continue to forget a few times before it has sunk in, but it will happen eventually, and our planet will be the better for it.

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6 thoughts on “British recycling woes

  1. The plastic bag levy was introduced in Ireland 10 years ago, and you’re charged 22c for each single use bag. I have a stash of big biodegradable ones that actually come from France (so it must be sold somewhere!!!). Don’t worry, taking bags with you becomes a reflex after a while 🙂

  2. In Canada it depends on the municipality or the grocery store. In 2012 they tried to ban the plastic bag in my city but it didn’t really happen, some stores voluntarily participated did but very few. Since then I have moved to a more rural area and the reusable grocery bag is gaining momentum. One store will even take a cent off for every reusable bag you use. I never heard of being able to purchase biodegradable for groceries …. though I use small ones to line my household compost bin.

  3. Miss Bougie says:

    Since at least 10 years, maybe longer, France has banned one way plastic bags at supermarkets. Instead you can buy biodegradable ones or big reusable ones for around 1 euro. When the big bag rips, the store (Leclerc, Super U, Carrefour, Auchan) will exchange it for free. It took me a while to adapt, but nowadays I don’t forget to take my bags with me. In fact I leave them in the car.
    Since a year or two, can’t remember, the rest of the retail world, Fnac, Castorama, clothes stores, are not allowed to give out plastic bags; either you bring your own or you need to buy a biodegradable one. Some sell hemp bags, some store your clothes in paper bags.
    The new development coming sometime next year, is that when you bag your veggies and fruit at the supermarket so that you can weigh and add a price sticker, is that stores are not allowed the little plastic bags any more. I don’t know how they will get around that one. Maybe paper bags, like at the market? Also one way cutlery and plates for picnics won’t be able to be sold when they come in plastic.

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