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Tackling the plastic bag horror

PUBLISHED: 15:28 13 February 2008 | UPDATED: 08:50 13 July 2010

LENT is here again - always an opportunity for me to have another shot at keeping the New Year's resolutions I usually break around January 4.

This year I keep trying, and failing, to give up plastic bags.

LENT is here again - always an opportunity for me to have another shot at keeping the New Year's resolutions I usually break around January 4.

This year I keep trying, and failing, to give up plastic bags.

My reusable stash is kept permanently in the car. And when I get to the supermarket checkout, I realise that's where they still are - in the car - so I end up taking another landfill's-worth of plastic carriers home.

Pat Ford, a North Norfolk District and North Walsham Town councillor, also made a resolution to try and stop using them, and she too is finding it difficult.

Pat nobly asked the last town council meeting to consider making North Walsham a plastic bag-free zone.

And the councillors, nobly, agreed to do some further research. They're going to ask the chamber of trade for its views and contact the county council.

Another market town, Modbury, in Devon, set the trend when all its 43 traders stopped using plastic bags last May, and look at the brilliant publicity it earned itself - I'd never heard of it before.

Pat's fellow district councillor Candy Sheridan is working with pupils at Stalham High School who want to launch their own green business, designing hessian bags to sell all over the area.

She says the idea came from the students themselves, who care deeply about their future. Candy's cabinet responsibilities include waste and recycling and she opened my eyes to a few uncomfortable truths.

Next time you feel virtuous about putting your plastic milk bottle in the recycling bin, perhaps you ought to know, according to Candy, that it ends up at the waste plant in Costessey from where it's sent to China (not very ecologically sound), melted down (ditto), turned into toys, and sent back here (doubly ditto) for us to buy - so that bit of recycling is about as green as Rudolph's nose.

I also remember chatting to Susan Flack, former project officer with the Aylsham Partnership, shortly after she returned from a trip to China in November 2006 to help collect the town's prizes in an international sustainable communities event.

She had been horrified at a trip to a vast landfill site over there. It was overflowing with discarded plastic bags.

Pat believes that, if the plastic bag-free idea is going to work in North Walsham, it will have to be a community-led initiative, not imposed on traders and shoppers.

She's probably right, but I wish public opinion in Britain would turn a little faster than the proverbial oil tanker.

I can just about remember when jokes about drinking and driving were widespread. Publicity spelling out the link between road deaths and alcohol has altered social attitudes completely in a generation.

Maybe hard-hitting campaigns about the damage caused by waste plastic will begin to change the national mindset in 2008.

And maybe the day will come when the sight of a shopper carrying even one plastic bag will cause heads to turn in disapproval at such blatant anti-social behaviour.

Maybe…. but maybe by then that proverbial oil tanker will have struck the rocks, spilled its load and devastated the world around it.

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