Saturday, 15 September 2007

PhotoHunter: plastic

Except for the small amount that's been incinerated - and it's a very small amount - every bit of plastic ever made still exists. ~ Charles Moore

In France and the UK there has been some effort to reduce the amount of plastic littering the environment by reducing the number of these plastic bags given freely to customers by supermarkets. They are small and lightweight and in the past in both countries you could more or less use as many as you wished for your shopping.

The two countries have taken slightly different approaches to try to improve the situation. In the UK you can still have free plastic bags but are encouraged to use larger and heavier bags (which you have to pay for). In France the same type of bags (below) are available but generally there is no free alternative, which tends to concentrate the mind!

Then there is the heavy duty plastic bag similar to these also on sale in larger shops.

The big problem with these re-usable bags, is trying to remember to take them with you. We unfortunately have a very large selection, having had to buy new each time we forget. I'm sorely tempted to auction them for charity:)

Other places, like Mr Bricolage, have gone for bags made from degradable plastic, containing TDPA which accelerates plastic degradation and biodegradation.

Some statistics from the EPI-global site:

  • In 2005, the world consumed 235 billion kilograms of plastics for all uses.
  • Plastics are ideal packaging materials due to their excellent properties, low weight, excellent processability and low cost and 40% of the plastics used in Europe and 25% in North America are used as packaging.
  • All of this is ultimately discarded, most after a single use. In developed countries most of this ends up in landfills; in less developed ones unfortunately as litter.
  • Most conventional plastics used for packaging can remain unchanged for decades after disposal.

My preferred way to help the situation though is a cotton bag of this type:

Other countries do things differently, and I'd be interested to hear how. I believe for instance in the US you use paper bags for grocery shopping.

Find players:


  1. Great post A. Have a great weekend

    There may be moves here in the UK to bring in a tax on plastic carrier bags. One was introduced in Ireland and the numberof carrier bags used nosedived. It may work well but the money raised should be ploughed back into green initiatives.

  2. Hey, I thought of plastic bags too -- but my photo is different from yours... Come visit and see! :b

  3. Jams, I had thought that Ireland had banned them completely, though thinking about it, it would seem impossible. No doubt I was muddled with the smoking ban!

    YTSL, great minds...!

  4. In the US we often have the option of paper, but you have to remember to ask. A lot of the natural food stores give you discounts for bringing your own bags too. As you say, the problem is remembering to bring them!

  5. At our grocery store, there is a big "recycling" bin where you can bring your old plastic bags. I do not know what they do with them though.

  6. Interesting approaches. Here in Munich, most people bring their own bags to shop. If you forget, you have to buy a bag, either a plastic or fabric one. The price of the plastic bags helps offset the cost of recycling or disposing of them. Most people tend to remember to bring their own bags. But you do have the choice to buy them if you forget or end up stopping at a store unplanned.

  7. That is an excellent post. In the U.S., where I live, the cloth bags are for sale at grocery stores but most people use plastic or paper bags. The top quote about how all the plastic made still exists is quite sobering.

  8. Some stores have a place you can recycle all the lightweight plastic bags. In discount grocers you have to buy the heavy weight bags, use their empty boxes or bring your own.

    I know plastic has been ground up and mixed with binders, formed and use like wood for park benches and some other outdoor uses.

    I try to get several uses before I throw out. The grocery that use to be near that recycled close.I usually ask for paper when I can. With both I always pack every thing tightly.

  9. nice entry, avery informative one, thanks for stopping by..
    pls do visit here too JhoPhotoHunt

  10. I think this was an EXCELLENT post! Here in the US we can get the plastic - or paper (which kills trees) OR we have cloth mesh bags for sale that - like you - we have to remember to bring back with us. I have a family of 6 and invested in 10 of the large mesh bags years ago. For awhile I remembered them faithfully... then I remembered them about half the time... then they started getting used for beach bags... (wonderful! All the sand drops out by the time you reach the car!)... and now I don't even know where they are! It's sad. I usually DO opt for the plastic - they ARE recyclable... if we take the time to do that! I don't like the paper... we waste WAY too much paper! It's definitely a problem... and at least we are TRYING to find solutions...

  11. I used to forget my reusable bags as well... then when I emptied my groceries, I hung them on the door knob, so the next time I went out to the car I put them in the back. That way I always have them with me :)

  12. I have a lot of canvas bags that I really should use more often. Where we live they ask us if plastic is OK or if we want paper. Thanks for visiting Pollywog Creek.

  13. Wow, that is quite a collection of plastic bags (and great photos of them)!

    Over here (Malta) plastic bags are collected for recycling together with plastic bottles, but many shops now use biodegradable plastic carrier bags (and garbage bags).

  14. It's remembering to take anything that's the problem!

    Great photos.

  15. I am soooo guilty. I have several cloth permanent bags, but either I leave them at home or I leave them in the car and don't have them for loading at the supermarket.

    At least I do recycle them, mainly as refuse sacks and doggy doo bags, so it is amazing how quickly they disappear.

  16. Good post. I have permanent bags and I always return them to the car after unpacking so that they are always with me.

  17. Great post for this week. I generally use a canvas bag but I too have a lot of the reusable plastic bags from the grocery stores and I TOO always seem to forget to bring them with me when shopping. :-)

    Happy Weekend.

  18. I ask for paper always,..I hate these plastic bags, they are so thin nowadays, they tear before you leave the store, requiring another bag to put the torn one into! Besdies, the bags fly around the car, spilling out my groceries, and paper stays upright....Great photos! My photos are up, please come and visit

  19. I bring my own bags. But mostly Plastic is used, then paper! In San Francisco they have banned Plastic Bags!
    I grew up in Switzerland where you bring your own bags and that has been the way for years, I don't understand why we can't make some changes here!
    Great posts and photos!

  20. This a great entry. I appreciate all the interesting details and efforts being done to minimize use of plastic bags.

    Sadly, in our country, majority of supermarkets use plastic bags. Some mall stores give reusable bags for free, however, only a few people remember to bring them when they come back to go shopping. I admire stores that make use of paper bags.

  21. In Sweden we have to buy the plastic bags in the stores and most of us then use it as garbage bags.

    But there is also, in some stores, the opportunity to buy cotton bags, but that's not so common and as you say: that demands that we remember to take it with us....

    Great post.

  22. Thank you all for your comments. It's been very interesting to hear of all the different schemes in existence. Mainly it seems to be down to us as individuals to make the effort one way or another, and of course that's obvious. Short of having someone come round to collect our bags for us...

  23. Spain still uses LOADS of plastic bags which are free in all stores and contribute to litter...We go on vacation to France so I have a stock of plastic and cotton bags to do our shopping!


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