With the Scottish parliament delaying its vote on a plastic bag tax for Scotland, is it now time for all intelligent retailers to take the lead and progress?
We are all aware of the problems of plastic bags in the UK - their environmental impact and needless drain on resources. The amount of petrol used to make one plastic bag would drive a car 115 metres.
Packaging Today estimates UK consumption of plastic checkout bags at 17.5 billion per year, enough in energy terms to drive a car 2.1 billion miles. Only one bag in every 200 is recycled; the other 199 can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. It is also known that plastic, as a whole, is responsible for the deaths of one million sea birds and 100,000 mammals each year.
Why should we be at the back of the queue for progressive retailing? Plastic bags already have bans, taxes, government levies and voluntary codes of practice in Australia, South Africa, Taiwan, India, Ireland, Denmark, Italy, China, Bangladesh, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan, with France also aiming to ban them by 2010.
The impact of plastic bags will not stop until retailers stop giving them away. And retailers should realise that consumers always want to be seen in the place that is a style leader. The environment is certainly on any discerning shopper’s lips as we have seen a massive explosion in environmental and social awareness.
The reality for consumers living in countries with plastic bag bans is simply: no big deal. There are times when society learns that it needs to change its behaviour for the better - take animal testing or the fur trade. All the flourishing companies in the world today base their decision-making on market research to guide them to success.
So why is so little attention being paid to the knowledge already acquired?
A B&Q survey asked more than
12,000 people across the UK for their views on, and use of, plastic bags.
The answers showed: 47% of those asked had more than 20 bags at home; 40% felt guilty at not reusing more; 73% were annoyed at neighbourhood litter caused by plastic bags; and 46% took home up to 10 bags with their shopping each week.
I may be biased but I believe consumers respect not being given plastic bags. Short-sighted retailers may fear they are going to provide bad customer service if they do not provide plastic bags. But progressive retailers, on the other hand, are aware that should they provide alternatives and discourage plastic bags, consumers will walk away feeling that they shop at an organisation that cares.
I have yet to hear complaints from Lidl’s or Netto’s customers who aren’t given them, or about B&Q’s 5p charge that goes directly to Keep Scotland Beautiful.
The minister for local environment quality, Ben Bradshaw, said: “While recycling is on the up across the whole of the UK, the amount of waste still being produced is staggering. Businesses have a vital part to play in ensuring we have a safe, clean environment of which we can be proud.”
In Switzerland you can even discard up to 90% of your packaging while still in the shop, as it is recycled straight away. In Woolworths’ supermarkets in Australia, when you are in the express lane and buy three or fewer items, you are not automatically offered a plastic bag - a simple example of how retailers can seriously cut usage. What initiatives do British organisations use to cut plastic bag consumption?
BBC’s Countryfile programme recently had the right idea in an item on plastic bags and their effect on our countryside. Re-use is the key. Granny had the right idea with her wheeled shopper basket, as do retailers who offer Bags For Life.
Where are all the progressive retailers who are looking for substitutes that have wider appeal, and are fun, exciting, good looking and convenient alternatives, in an attempt to end the horrors that they bring?