Friday, 29 February 2008

Plastic Bags - Is the PM right?

Gordon Brown believes that the moves within the retail industry to reduce the use of plastic bags are not achieving their goals speedily enough. This, in the week that M&S have announced that they intend to charge shoppers 5p per bag, raises questions in my mind.

Do SME retailers have a view on the use of plastic bags? Do retailers understand the impact of plastic bags on the environment? Are there sensible cost-effective alternatives to plastic bags? Is the plastic bag issue the primary one that needs to be addressed or are there even more important issues about packaging in general, or even about the impact of certain products that are sold in the normal course of trading that might have at least as negative an impact on our environment as plastic bags? I realise that by asking these questions there is a danger of being distracted from the origin of Mr Brown's concerns but they are questions that are screaming out of my head as I read that Mr Brown fully intends to impose a tax on the use of plastic bags if the retailers are not more successful in reducing their use.

Personally, I know why they are a hazard, the plastics from which they are made, whilst constructed of basic elements, they are fabricated in a manner that disguises the elemental components to the natural decomposing processes that more traditional waste products undergo. I also recognise that plastic carriers are seen in all sorts of places having been wind-blown - shredded and caught up in trees and other places - which are an eye-sore. They are known to be the cause of distress and possibly death in a range of large mammals and perhaps other animal life. However, why is there no high level question raising about the plethora of chemical substances that we see on our television screens nightly in the guise of simple household cleaning products, for example. These are going into the sewer systems and I would be mightily suprised if natural enzymic or mechanical processes were able to deal effectively with the decomposing of them any more than plastic carrier bags. Is this not building up an environmental problem for the future?

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