How Do You Ban the Dreaded Plastic Bag?

Here's a book designed to show you the way
Here's a book designed to show you the way

Ban the Plastic Bag is a small but very evocative read from the green shelf of Fragile Earth Books and essentially, it sets out a community action plan for a carrier bag-free world.

Every year 17 billion carrier bags are given away free in the UK;  that means an average of 300 carrier bags for every man, woman and child.  Plastics do not biodegrade and scientists now estimate that plastic lasts for up to 1,000 years.

Every carrier bag that has ever been produced is still on the planet, in landfill, hedgerows, or floating in the sea. Plastic bag litter is lethal, killing over 100,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, whales and turtles every year.

Worldwide, people are rallying:  in Bangladesh and Taiwan carrier bags have been banned;  China has announced it will soon do the same.  Ireland introduced a 15p levy on plastic bags, which has led to a 90% reduction in their use.  Marks & Spencer has introduced a similar charge.

In May 2007, Modbury in Devon became Britain’s first plastic bag-free town. This book takes the Modbury story and uses it as a call to action, entreating every village, town and city in the country to follow its example and ban the plastic bag.

I spoke to Pip Richards, one of the key contributors to the book and posed a few probing questions.

What motivated you to get involved with the book and what are your thoughts on it?

The waste issue is one that we at the Sustainable Trust feel strongly about and have worked on over the years. We mounted an exhibition called ‘Re-inventing Rubbish‘ and made an Arts Council funded digital short showing how to make sustainable Christmas cards and presents for Electric December.

Sawday’s ‘Ban the Bag’ book is a sensible practical way of sharing the experiences of 7 campaigners in very different places. I was happy to co-ordinate the campaign in Helston last winter and am still an active group member. The key to a shift in public awareness lies with the media. Any way of getting the message across is to be welcomed.

The book is a splendid example of a community toolkit.  To attack a problem like the plastic bag seems insurmountable at first.  Success brings empowerment and then encouragement to take the process further.  This is a priceless gift in a time where some people can become seriously depressed about environmental issues.

Why do we need to find solutions to the plastic bag?

They are a blight on the landscape, a life threat to wildlife and take so long to decompose that they are with us for generations.  They break up into smaller pieces contaminating the land and the waterways.  Minute particles enter the food chain and can then be found in our bodies.  Who knows what damage these chemical deposits are doing to the world’s health?

The ‘throw it away’ age has passed.  There is no away anymore.  Plastic rubbish builds up on roadsides, in hedgerows and on fences and trees near careless supermarkets.

Marine wildlife suffers, especially turtles, mistaking the bags for food, unable to regurgitate they sometimes choke to death.  A large proportion of marine rubbish is plastic, washed from the land by rivers and streams.

What are your top tips for weaning people off of using them?

Keep a fabric or string bag in your handbag/briefcase for the odd bit of shopping.  Never leave home without one.  Remember money, keys and bags when you leave the house or workplace.

Dissuade your family from bringing them home.  In Helston, we have just produced a large strong jute duffle bag for the men in our lives.

Refuse plastic bags politely and loudly at every checkout and shop till without appearing judgemental.  Some interesting conversations ensue with the most unlikely people.  Everyone has an opinion on this issue. make bags from left over fabrics and will give them away outside supermarkets that show no sign of reducing plastic bag use.  Start a ‘pod’ of your own.  Download the design and get started.

Do something that you can do!  Engage Scouts, Guides, the WI, the school and all those other groups you know of,  or have family who are members of.

Lobby your Parish, Town, District or County Council.  There is such a groundswell now that they really can’t ignore you and your friends.

Give yourselves a name;  get a catch phrase to publicise yourselves too.

Send me an email if you get stuck or would like help to get things off the ground at

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One expression we always show on Sustainable Trust exhibitions is ‘ Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he thought he could only do a little’.

Remember ‘the World is our larder, but beware, it is also our dustbin’.

Pip’s Story

Pip Richards downshifted in 1979. From a successful 10 years in independent television, she followed her dream of buying a south-facing house with an inspirational view. The fact that it had no mains electricity or water supply and a long muddy track with 3 farm gates were all superseded by the stunning environment in which she then brought up her two sons.

Several years later the splendid view of 75 acres of historic Estate Groves was under threat by a timeshare company, who felled an adjacent 10 acre wood to put up 28 chalets, and had further outline planning permission to build another 122. Alarm bells rang and a long battle ensued involving gazumping and public appeals, culminating with the purchase of the woodlands by the Dandelion Trust concerned with Care, Conservation, Creativity and appropriate stewardship.

The Sustainable Trust was formed some years later initially to manage the woodlands for community use and to further the objects of the Local Agenda 21 group, of which Pip was a member and newsletter writer. Networking is second nature to this Geminian and the Trust has gone from strength to strength over its first 7 years.

The website, demonstrates the breadth of the work supported and undertaken by the Sustainable Trust. Acting locally and thinking globally, they believe in empowerment, environmental education and eco-therapy. New projects present themselves frequently and if they feel right and connect with the objects of the trust, they are taken on board.

Click here to order Ban the Plastic Bag and get a free cotton bag too!

Rubbishly yours,

TS x