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.
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