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Plastic Bag Purchases Drop 90% at Major England Retailers After Bag Fee Is Introduced

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Plastic Bag Purchases Drop 90% at Major England Retailers After Bag Fee Is Introduced
Shoppers push shopping carts towards a Sainsbury's supermarket on April 29, 2018 in London, England. Chris J Ratcliffe / Getty Images

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."

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."

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.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes β€” the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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