“The UK is shamefully wasteful. In fact we generate enough waste every two hours to fill the Albert Hall. At a time where pressure on the world’s resources has never been greater, we have to find a way to be more efficient. The first priority is reducing the amount of waste we generate in the first place, and the only way to do that is to make waste a liability. Companies will then operate in such a way that minimizes that liability.
Of all the waste we generate, the plastic bag is perhaps the greatest symbol of our throwaway society. They are used and then forgotten, and they leave a terrible legacy. The figures are shocking. Each year 13 billion bags are used and thrown away in the UK. Each bag will be used for an average of 20 minutes, and once discarded will take anything up to 1,000 years to decompose. About 98% will end up in our already overflowing landfill sites. Some 200 million will litter the countryside. Thousands of Sea turtles, whales, and countless other species mistake the bags for food and once ingested, the bags block the animal’s insides and cause a horrible death.
Countless countries have taken the initiative to ban or phase out the bag. China, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Taiwan and San Francisco have all introduced bans. Others have introduced a bag tax. In Ireland for instance, a bag-tax has led to a reported 90% reduction in the number of bags used. In spite of a sluggish response by our own leaders, things are beginning to happen in the UK, not least in Kew, where all of the local shops with the exception of Tesco have agreed to take get rid of the plastic bag.
Now under the guidance of Greener-Upon-Thames, Richmond Borough as a whole is embarking on the same journey, and I will support it all the way. I have written to all the major chains asking them to back the initiative and am awaiting a response. I’m not holding my breath, but I hope Tesco will be more helpful this time. I’ve also written to all the Schools, asking them to involve their pupils and parents. With enough support, this project can set an example for the country.”
Zac Goldsmith is MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, and Director of the Ecologist Magazine.