Last week, the government proudly announced that plastic bag sales had fallen dramatically.
However, the government’s press release only mentioned in passing that these figures only include so-called “single-use” plastic bags.
This is significant because most supermarkets are actively trying to replace or supplement the sale of thin single-use bags with more durable bags, known as “bags for life”.
But the government’s figures do not include any bags for life – which now account for a significant proportion of supermarket plastic bag sales.
About ten days ago I was on the beach with an environmental engineer who was convinced that using “bags for life” was better than single-use bags. I said that this was cute, but it was no less an article of faith than a Medieval peasant believing in the afterlife. She disagreed, so I asked if she was aware of the Danish study which shows “bags for life” are more damaging to the environment than single-use bags. She said she wasn’t, but she was more concerned with the overall environmental impact, not just the amount of plastic used. I said this is precisely what the study looked at. She dismissed this with a wave of the hand and said she was “sure” there are lots of studies out there. I asked if she could name any, because the one by the Danish government was the only one I’d heard of. She said she didn’t know of any. I said I admired her commitment to her faith. She suggested we go for a swim.
The problem is this is not about personal choice. I couldn’t care less if middle class women in white collar professions want to make pointless offerings to the Earth Goddess, but they want their dumb personal preferences turned into national legislation without the slightest consideration of the broader consequences.
Bags for life are much thicker than single-use bags, so they contain much more plastic.
For instance, FactCheck calculates that a Waitrose bag for life weighs almost four times as much as the supermarket’s single-use bags.
The idea is that customers will use fewer of them – so the total amount of plastic being used over the course of a year will be less. But reports suggest this is not always working.
Last year, The Times said an average UK household uses 44 bags for life in just one year.
And the managing director of Iceland admitted the supermarket was actually using more plastic – not less – as a result of switching to bags for life.
He told the paper: “These bags for life are a thicker, higher grade of plastic… We are selling less of them but it’s not yet less enough that it’s compensated in terms of the extra weight that they are for the fewer amount of bags that we are selling. So therefore I haven’t yet reduced the total amount of plastic weight, even though I have eliminated 5p carrier bags.”
Legislation is being passed by religious fanatics who are convinced they’re acting rationally in accordance with economic and scientific data. At least in the olden days the religious orders put up some nice buildings.