Carrier bag litter up 38% in Scotland, since charge was introduced

Now there’s a surprise…….
Despite the introduction in 2014 of the plastic carrier bag charge and numerous campaigns to tackle
the problem of litter in Scotland, a recent study carried out by The Industry Council for research on
Packaging & the Environment (INCPEN) reports that carrier bag litter is up 38%. The study would
seem to indicate that charges have not affected the behaviour of people who are determined to
litter anyway.

Lightweight plastic bags are the most inexpensive, convenient and cost-effective way to protect
groceries from damage and contamination and get them home from the shops, they are also the
most maligned. Carrier bags represent under 0.5% of the total litter count, and yet the carrier
bag has become the symbol of plastic waste worldwide.

However, there is an alternative. A little research prior to the charge would have revealed that plastic
bags, especially oxo-biodegradable (controlled-life) plastic bags are better for the environment
than paper, cotton/jute, compostable and conventional re-usable plastic bags, when water,
energy, transport, land use, and emissions are factored in.

Carrier bags made from oxo-biodegradable plastic technology are indistinguishable from
conventional plastic bags for all intents and purposes. They are as strong, lightweight,
waterproof and flexible, and they can be recycled along with conventional plastic.
However, there is one very important difference. They will not be around for decades.

A special additive, included in the manufacturing process causes the plastic to convert, at the end
of its useful life into biodegradable materials, which will degrade and biodegrade the plastic in the
outdoor environment, in the same way as a leaf only quicker, leaving nothing behind. No toxic
residues or fragments of plastic.

This technology is already being utilised in several countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East
because they realised it was not possible to collect all the plastic waste. They have therefore
legislated to make its use mandatory. Switching to oxo-biodegradable plastic for carrier bags
and packaging is simple because it can be made in existing plastic factories with the same
workforce and machinery at little or no extra cost.

Litter is a global problem and has to be tackled in several ways, including educating the public
to be more responsible and tougher penalties for careless disposal, but somewhere in the mix
there has to be pragmatism. Switching to oxo-biodegradable plastic makes sound environmental
and economic sense, because it allows the shopkeepers and consumers to keep the best product
for the job, without the environmental baggage associated with it.

Perhaps it is time for a rethink?