I gave a speech this week at the Plastics and Films Association (PAFA) annual lunch. ‘Films’, as in ‘plastic films’, I should point out because a number of people have been confused.
The 200 strong audience at the Dorchester Hotel were particularly appreciative when I said that plastic bags were better for the environment than paper ones – see carrier bag fact sheet I’ve written for Marks & Spencer. They were also happy with me pointing out that measuring the weight of a product was a very inadequate way of assessing its environmental impact. And that in future they should be measuring the total carbon impact of products throughout their lifecycle.
More contentious was my enthusiasm for retailers charging for carrier bags. I fully recognise that the environmental impact of carrier bags are insignificant in the scheme of things. But I also think that people should be encouraged to minimise waste, for example by bringing their own bags with them for shopping. The counter argument for this is that the plastic bag tax in Ireland actually managed to increase the amount of plastics sold. People were buying plastic rubbish disposal bags rather than using their old carrier bags. And more paper bags were also handed out.
I’ve given so much thought to the plastic bag debate – and done numerous radio interviews on the subject – I decided to write a poem about it for the conference. Here it is:
THE POOR OLD HUMBLE PLASTIC BAG
Why does everyone like to slag
The poor old humble plastic bag
It’s been banned in Malibu, Modbury and Mexico
The Welsh have said they’d like it to go
Banish the bag screams the Daily Mail
It lasts forever is the biggest wail
And Gordon climbed onto the bag band wagon
Boris too denounces the plastic dragon
Meanwhile the industry tries to be heard
They say ‘the public are quite absurd’
And that ‘plastics are actually very good
Far better in fact than paper, which is made from wood’
‘It’s lighter, more durable and takes up less space’
But nothing they say gives them grace
They’re making money, they can’t be believed
So the public think they’re being deceived.
The problem is surely our disposable society
This is the cause of the bags notoriety
It’s become symbolic of what we waste
So that’s the issue that can’t be faced
And that’s why everyone likes to slag
The poor old humble plastic bag…….
Another challenge for the industry is to use much more recycled plastic in the products they make. And to improve on recycling rates. Some people are aware that you can recycle plastic carrier bags but very few realise that these schemes can include lots of plastic packaging, whether it’s for food or post. But beware, if you put degradable plastic wrapping into recycling schemes it will contaminate the load and mean it can’t be recycled.
There’s a lot more to the plastics debate than meets the eye!