Kick Your (Plastic Bag) Habit

  • Julia Gash
  • 22nd April 2013

This month the regional government in Northern Ireland implented a new taxation policy, targeting the single use plastic bag. The bag tax is actually an environmental levy and is designed to stop people taking plastic bags so freely when they're at the shopping counter.  

By cutting down the production and usage of plastic bags, the environment will be better protected.  The argument for reducing our plastic bag use is a no brainer.  In making plastic bags we use up the world's continually depleting oil reserves.  People take the bags so easily partly because they're free. Last week I was behind a man in a queue at my local mini Supermarket.  He bought a chocolate bar and insisted that the check out girl give him a plastic bag.  When she pointed out that he didn't need one for such a small purchase, he became irate and said that it was his entitlement.  She gave in with a sigh and another plastic bag was handed out, which will soon be making it's way to a landfill site near me.

Plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.  In the mean time they hang around, polluting the soil with chemicals or choking and killing marine or bird life, attracted to the bright, blue floaty   shape which they mistake for food or simply ingest them as they hunt for other food for their survival.  They cling to hedgerow and get tangled in trees.

I met a woman at a party last night who takes photographs of single use plastic bags in trees as an art form.  Hilary Jack's website Turquoise Bag In A Tree, is a thought provoking and she reminds us of the irony of the duality of the plastic bags: our use for it is ephemeral but it's impact on the environment is one of permanence.  

Hilary says: 

"Scientists predict it can take up to 1,000 years for a single plastic bag to degrade, even then the residual chemicals remain in the earth. Though torn and dishevelled, the bag I photographed near my studio in 2003, still clings on. The debate surrounding the banning of plastic carrier bags remains undecided, one thing however is certain. The turquoise bag in the tree is there to stay and will long outlive you or I."

I applaud the actions of the government of Northern Ireland.  By charging 5p for a bag, it will make people stop and think as to whether they actually need one.  It also enables people to realise that nothing is free ... everything has a cost, be it to our purses or to the environment.  If we had this tax in England then I think the man at my local supermarket would not be so insistent on his right to have a plastic bag.

One of the things we focus on at BIDBI is creating and printing bags that look so cool that they won't sit at the back of a cupboard or in the boot of your car but you can't wait to get it on your shoulder.  Indeed, a bag you're proud to be seen with on your arm!  We work with many emerging designers, big fashion brands and arts institutions in designing and making bags that are beautiful. Our own range of creative bag art: Talented Totes, is designed for this purpose.  Through good design we encourage people to use their tote!

Imagine there was a world without any plastic bags...

(I love this bag we printed for Found in Bath ... who wouldn't want to their groceries in this?!). Many people including myself, who are a half century or older can actually remember what it was like.  We used our own bags, took cardboard boxes at the supermarket, didn't do the big supermarket run but bought less, more frequently and locally.  If we managed for thousands of years without single use plastic bags then we can continue our lives without them.  The sooner the better for me!