Belfast Telegraph

Plastic ‘bags for life’ add to litter problem

By Linda Stewart

According to Friends of the Earth, every household has 80 plastic bags, including ‘bags for life’, in their possession that end up in the bin.

But despite being among the most tenacious kind of litter to mar our towns and countryside it looks like Environment Minister Edwin Poots has ruled out the tax that cut their use by almost 90% when it was introduced in the Republic in 2002.

Instead he has encouraged supermarkets to introduce voluntary bags for life measures for one-use plastic bags to push shoppers towards greener alternatives.

However, as Londonderry woman Catherine McGrotty explains, bags for life are contributing to the problem.

“I must have about 10 bags for life at least — Sainsbury’s, Tesco, everywhere. I even have one from Ikea and I’m not even sure if you’re supposed to take them,” she said. “I mostly end up forgetting and leaving them behind when I go shopping and then buying another.”

The minister’s strategy has met with disappointment from environmental campaigners who had hoped to see the dramatic results that followed the introduction of a plastic bag tax across the border.

And ‘Bag Lady’ Shirley Lewis, a green educator, warned householders in Northern Ireland needed to be much more aware of the repercussions of their actions when it comes to plastic bags.

She said: “The excuse of ‘I can’t remember to take a bag for life’ is very worn out. People are just making excuses — they are waiting for the Government to do everything for them.”

Ms Lewis, who is funded by the DoE to bring her waste reduction message to schools and communities, added: “The tax seems to have been ruled out and what we need is that each person in the community takes responsibility.”

In contrast, Friends of the Earth insists a plastic bag tax would be a powerful weapon to battle the bags that take thousands of years to decompose and are notorious for choking birds and sealife.

As part of the Belfast Telegraph’s Big Clean-Up campaign we targeted a number of beaches on the Co Down coast where hundreds of plastic bags were tangled through theseaweed.

Ms Lewis also says it’s vital that so-called bags for life carry a large symbol showing whether they really are environmentally friendly — many are not.

“There is a desperate need for more information on everything. Good-hearted people are doing stuff they think is really good for the environment but it isn’t helping,” she said.

“The answer is jute bags, hemp bags, cloth bags. Any environmentally friendly bag needs to have a symbol on it that people can see.”

And those sentiments are echoed by Friends of the Earth campaigner Declan Allison who said: “ Apparently the average household has about 80 plastic bags sitting in a drawer somewhere unused. Most of the time they aren’t reused and they end up in the bin.”

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph