Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Ban plastic bags

28 June, 2012 - 13:09 -- John Burton
Plastic Bag Jellyfish on the front cover of National Geographic magazine

A letter landed on my desk this week, from 16-year-old Amber Bytheway, who was urging the World Land Trust (WLT) to support her e-petition to ban plastic bags in the UK. I was impressed by her research and knowledge on the issue, her well-written appeal letter, and most of all her passion.

Campaigning to change UK legislation is not in the remit of WLT, an international conservation organisation, but I was taken by Amber’s commitment and asked WLT’s social networking team to spread the word and encourage our supporters to sign the petition.

On our Facebook page it immediately sparked great debate, with some arguing that at present biodegradable bags are just as environmentally harmful. An article by BBC journalist Chris Summers, What should be done about plastic bags?, debates this issue:

“Last year Britain's Environment Agency published a Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, which concluded that long-life bags have to be reused a number of times if they are to be environmentally a better option than standard plastic carrier bags.

“For instance, if a plastic bag is used just once, then a paper bag must be used three times to compensate for the larger amount of carbon used in manufacturing and transporting it, a plastic ‘bag for life’ must be used four times, and a cotton bag must be used 131 times.”

But far from this research suggesting that we should give up on the plight to ban plastic bags, surely it should encourage us to work to increase environmental awareness. Banning plastic bags is just the first step – something that should have been achieved decades ago – following that we must campaign to improve green technology, invest in environmental education and dramatically lower our consumption.

Critics of campaigns to ban plastic bags argue that paper bags, the traditional shopping bag of choice in the US, has a greater carbon footprint. Yet they ignore the fact that when plastic bags, unlike paper, end up in the sea they can do considerable damage - killing marine life such as turtles and cetaceans.

Critics often also cite the fact that, in terms of environmental problems, banning plastic bags is a minor concern that distracts from real issues such as climate change, rapid species extinction and the depletion of natural resources like fresh water. These concerns are the focus of WLT’s work and we labour tirelessly with our partners across the world to protect some of the most threatened habitats and species on Earth.

But we realise that for a lot of people world-wide conservation is an abstract issue, with the problems seeming insurmountable. Where we achieve our greatest success is at a grassroots level; our partners across the world work with local people to campaign for improved environmental protection within their own countries. This empowers local people, giving them the belief that they can make a real difference.

Today, Amber’s battle is plastic bags and she is taking positive action to make a difference. With her passion and commitment, who knows what she will achieve tomorrow. I would urge everyone to fight for a cause they really believe in. Small battles can win great wars.

Amber needs 100,000 signatures by August 18 to bring this debate to the House of Commons. Sign the e-petition to ban plastic bags in the UK today.

Comments

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

Want a lucid, compellingly written set of arguments to press home exactly why this issue is so pertinent?

Check out Callum Roberts' latest book : "Ocean of Life" .

It's cogent, terrifying and essential all at the same time.

Give Prof Roberts a top literary prize - better still - give him a knighthood! Better yet, get him to dictate policy. Immediately!

Submitted by jan honeysett on

is there another petiton to sign?the one above is now closed,we have got to stop this madness

Submitted by Charlotte Beckham on

Dear Jan,

Thank you for your comment. As John mentions in his blog it is not usually in the remit of WLT to campaign for UK legislation changes but we were particularly taken by the letter from Amber. I would suggest looking online as there are numerous campaigns against plastic bags and you may find one focusing on your local area. Or if it is something you are really passionate about, you could even start your own petition.

Best wishes,
Charlotte Beckham
Conservation Development Assistant
World Land Trust

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