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Plastic Bags: A plastic problem that has to be dealt with.

14th October 2013 by Alessandro Maccioni

Plastic bags are useful. Free, light and relatively strong, we have all used them at some point. However, once you have got your shopping back home the problems they create become evident. You can’t recycle them from your home, so what you need to do is take them to your supermarket and stuff them in the recycling boxes located in the store. However, most of us will forget to take back all the plastic bags we got at the supermarket last time. As a result, they are usually just thrown in our general domestic rubbish bins.

The problems with this are obvious. As they are made with polyethylene they are non-degradable and as they are lightweight they catch easily in the wind. This combination of factors means that it has become horribly common to see carrier bags caught in trees and in hedges where they simply stay until they are so ripped that they drop to the ground and suppress plant growth. In fact, they are so effective at catching the wind that they are taken out to sea where they fall into the water and pose a serious health risk to animals. Sea turtles have been found dead with plastic bags having clogged up their insides. It is thought that the turtles mistake them for jellyfish and that is why they eat them.

A young turtle on a beach eating plastic.

Our actions here in London can have an impact around the world.

So something desperately needs to change – and it just has.

Over the last couple of weeks the world plastic bags help and hinder has dramatically altered.

Firstly, Nick Clegg has announced that a 5p tax will be put in place for plastic bags used in England. It would come into force in 2015 and it could have a big impact. In Northern Ireland a 5p charge is thought to have reduced the amount of carrier bags people use by as much as 80%. In Wales a similar story has taken place. In Rwanda, plastic bags have been outlawed since 2008. Unsurprisingly, the sky has not fallen down on Rwanda and daily life continues apace as normal. People just use their own cotton bags instead.

A boy surrounded by plastic rubbish.

The choices we make daily can contribute to scenes like this.

Secondly, the UK is set to get its first plastic bag and recycling facility up and running by the end of the year in South London (Woolwich). This will mean that there is finally a place where polyethylene can be recycled in the London area. JunkWize will certainly be investigating if and how we can use this facility in the next year, as we are dedicated to making sure that as little of your waste goes into landfill as possible.

In our view, both of these points are related. This means that we would rather see plastic bags outlawed and cotton or hemp ones replacing them. Supermarkets could sell them for £1. This would work and it would make a massive impact overnight. Rwanda has led the way and it’s time that we followed their fine example.

On a final note, we recently wrote an article suggesting ways to improve recycling rates in London for London Remade. We ultimately suggested that all new blocks of flats should have multiple rubbish chutes (one for glass, one for paper, one for food etc.) and that people and companies taking rubbish to the tip should be able to use bus lanes. If implemented, we believe that this would speed up the whole recycling process and make it much easier for a lot of people, thus increasing recycling rates. From our point of view as a rubbish removal company, being able to use bus lanes would mean that we could get rubbish to its final destination at a quicker pace. Our fleet of vehicles would then not be sitting in traffic as much, so we’d be able to serve more clients. Simple, really.

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