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We have mail: Campaign to Protect Rural England's Past President, Bill Bryson, writes...

* bagmonsters.jpgDear Friends

You've no doubt seen them many times before. Bedraggled but defiant, snagged at lofty heights, their unnatural livery of garish hues jarring against the sky. They are the flags of mindless consumption; the pennants of profligacy.

I am, of course, talking about the littered carrier bag which, when it's not choking wildlife or failing to degrade in landfill, can often be seen caught in trees - a vision described mysteriously but evocatively as witches' knickers.

To reduce this type of litter, CPRE has been working with Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage on a new campaign called Break the Bag Habit. We have called for a 5p charge on all single-use carrier bags, of any material, in England.

In the Republic of Ireland a scheme was introduced in 2002 and now incidents of carrier bag litter are negligible. Northern Ireland will follow suit in 2013. The term witches' knickers is thought to be of Irish origin so perhaps this explains why they've been so sensible.

In Scotland, they're already consulting on how a charging scheme can be implemented and the Welsh Government introduced a similar scheme last year, resulting in a reduction of bag use of up to 90%.

Last week, we went to the Conservative Party Conference but we weren't entirely recognisable, as you can see below ...

25 bag monsters chanted, danced and Mexican-waved, whilst the results of a customer survey by the retailer Lush were presented to Zac Goldsmith MP. It showed that 80% of Lush's customers would support a charge. Great news!

And it seems they're not the only ones with common sense. We also asked people what they thought about introducing a charge in England and 54% agreed that it's a good idea. Only 24% disagreed.

17% of people weren't sure and I think that's fair enough. They might not be old enough to remember that many stores were openly charging for carrier bags up until the late 1980s and of course there's the worry that you'll keep forgetting to take a spare bag with you. But I think these fears will turn out to be unfounded. The Welsh Government did some polling about the popularity of the scheme and they found that once it was in place, support increased to 70%. Many people in Wales have reported that it now feels very strange to see bags everywhere when they come to England.

And let's clear up a couple of things. The carrier bags handed out so liberally at most supermarkets aren't free. The cost of them is hidden in the price of other products. When you think about it for just one moment the question is obvious - why would a business whose motivation is profit spend millions of pounds a year giving away things for free? The answer is that it wouldn't.

And the reason that the charge should apply to all types of material is because paper bags aren't the environmentally benign option they're perceived to be. The main problem is they're heavy and bulky, so transporting them requires more lorries.

If you agree that England should break its bag habit and so reduce litter and waste, do urge your MP to let the Government know your view. They can also sign something called an Early Day Motion (no. 534 in this case), which is a way of registering their support. The computer wizards at CPRE have worked their wonders again and there is a very simple online action you can take. Over 2,000 people have done so already so please add your voice to theirs.

And for the record, I have absolutely nothing against witches but really, it's time we stopped seeing their not so charming undergarments decorating the trees and hedges of England.

With best wishes

Bill Bryson
Tel: 020 7981 2800, Fax: 020 7981 2899


18th October 2012

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