A trillion plastic bags a year

In a week where the focus is caring for the environment, Christian Aid's Count Your Blessings Lent calendar highlights plastic bag use and suggests you give 50p if you have accepted a plastic bag in a shop this week.

I was about to say I haven't. I use jute bags or heavy-weight reuseable plastic bags. Then I remembered the several single-use plastic bags I'd used for fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. So my total today should probably be £2.50. 

According to Green England a trillion plastic bags each year are used world-wide of which the UK uses 10 billion. Most are only used once and some take as much as 1,000 years to degrade into a plastic dust which can continue to contaminate. Plastic bag litter has a devastating effect on wild-life.

It does seem this is a complex issue. If re-cycling is done responsibly, it's not a simple matter of plastic bags = bad, paper and fabric bags = good. For example paper and cotton bags use more energy resources in production than a single-use plastic bag. According to a UK Government Environment Agency report whatever type of bag is used the key to reducing environmental impact is to re-use each bag as many times as possible. This table from that report shows the number of times each type of bag would need to be re-used to ensure they have lower global warming potential than HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) bags that are not re-used. 


  1. Phew. At last something for me to feel good about.
    The last time I accepted a plastic carrier bag in a supermarket was about 6 years ago.
    I always use any of the fruit, bread roll, little bags as many times as possible and finally use them to line my rubbish bins in my office and kitchen.
    Conservation is high on my list of priorities and anything which contributes to a 'greener' world is good in my book.
    There are many other reasons for me to feel guilt, but happily that is not one of them.
    Can you just hear how smug I feel?

  2. Plastic shopping bags are now charged for in Wales, Nancy, but I'd stopped using them long before. Like Ray The ones I do have I use instead of bin-liners, but unfortunately the flimsy ones used for fruit and veg aren't big enough for this. It's a real problem.

  3. Thanks for commenting Ray and Perpetua. I was brought up to reuse things rather than throw them away - my mother even ironed used paper bags and Christmas wrapping paper before folding them away for reuse. Plastic bags are so useful though - I couldn't organise my filing system without plastic A4 sleeves. Some plastic is fast degradable and compostable. I was pleased when some clothes shops started using strong paper carrier bags. Then I read that manufacturing these might be worse for the environment than making plastic bags - it is complex weighing up these things.

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