Plastic Bag Purchases Drop 90% at Major England Retailers After Bag Fee Is Introduced
Charging grocery shoppers a small fee for plastic bags works.
At least that's what the UK government has found. Since it introduced a five-pence fee for plastic shopping bags in 2015, plastic bag sales at England's seven biggest retailers have fallen 90 percent, NPR reported.
"No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife," UK Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said as her agency released the findings Wednesday. "Today's figures are a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society."
Our #PlasticBag charge is working. 🛍️— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) July 31, 2019
490 million fewer single-use #plastic bags were sold by major supermarkets last year. That’s less plastic harming our #environment.
Join us and #PassOnPlastic
👉 https://t.co/gk8txyuHpL pic.twitter.com/4g5sf76HmJ
The data comes from Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose. Together, the seven stores sold about half as many bags during 2018 - 2019 as they did the year before, a drop from one billion to 549 million, according to BBC News. Across all major English stores, bag sales fell by 37 percent between this year and last, The Guardian reported.
English shoppers now use 10 bags a year on average, a far cry from the 140 bags they used in 2014, the year before the fee was introduced. The 2015 law required stores with 250 or more employees to charge customers the equivalent of around 6 U.S. cents per plastic bag, NPR explained. Smaller stores can opt in if they choose. Similar bag fees in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales apply to all stores regardless of size, BBC News said.
Maddy Haughton-Boakes of the Campaign to Protect Rural England celebrated the news, but said England could go further.
"The continued reduction in plastic bag use in our supermarkets is yet more evidence of the huge impact that a small financial incentive can have," Haughton-Boakes said, as The Guardian reported. "Theresa Villiers must now build on this success by rolling it out to all small shops. There is absolutely no reason the charge shouldn't be applied to all bags, paper as well as plastic, to bring an end to the use of these single-use items altogether."
Sales of single-use bags by big supermarkets have fallen 90% since the 5p charge was introduced 🙌 - more evidence of the power of financial incentives.— CPRE (@CPRE) July 31, 2019
Now we need to roll the #bagcharge out to smaller shops to further reduce #singleuseplastic. https://t.co/VN7UbiWYBr
Bag fees like the UK's tend to be better for the environment than outright bans, University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor told NPR earlier this year. That's because bans force people who reuse plastic grocery bags for trash to go out and buy heavier bags.
"What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned," Taylor said.
The bag fee is only one of several actions taken by the UK government in recent years to reduce plastic pollution. A ban on products using microbeads came into force in 2018 and another on single-use plastics like straws and stirrers was announced for England in May. It will go into force in 2020.
Approximately eight million metric tons of plastic enter the world's oceans each year, and the amount of ocean plastic will increase threefold in the next ten years if nothing is done, according to UK government scientists. Current levels of plastic pollution kill one million birds and more than 100,000 marine mammals annually.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.