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Plastic bag revolt spreads across Britain

Mark Rice-Oxley, The Christian Science Monitor
Spurred by a filmmaker’s documentary, the English town of Modbury became the first in Europe to ban them outright.
It was watching sea creatures choke on plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean that finally persuaded Rebecca Hosking that enough was enough.

The British filmmaker had already recoiled in disgust at deserted Hawaiian beaches piled up with four feet of rubbish, the jetsam of Western consumerism washed up by an ocean teeming with plastic. Now, filming off the coast, she looked on aghast as sea turtles eagerly mistook bobbing translucent shapes in the water for jellyfish.

“Sea turtles can’t read Wal-mart or Tesco signs on plastic bags,” fumes Ms. Hosking, who returned to Britain in March. “They will home in on it and feed on it. Dolphins mistake them for seaweed and quite often they’ll eat them and it causes huge damage.”

Within a few weeks of coming back, Hosking persuaded her hometown to ban plastic bags outright and found herself in the vanguard of a sudden British revulsion for that most disposable convenience of the throwaway society.

Stores, grass-roots groups, and citizens are joining forces to reduce national consumption of plastic bags, and Hosking is fielding hundreds of requests a day for guidance.

Dumbstruck by what she’d seen off the Hawaiian coast during her year-long filmmaking trip, Hosking set up a local screening of her film and invited the town’s 43 shopkeepers to come see where plastic bags end up.

All but seven of them showed up. At the end of the viewing, held in a local hall, Hosking called for a show of hands in support of a voluntary ban on plastic bags. Every single hand went up. The rest of the town’s shopkeepers quickly followed suit. On May 1, Modbury won bragging rights as the first plastic-bag-free town in Europe.

Now, larger towns and even cities are calling up Hosking to ask how she did it.
(20 June 2007)

The state of Britain’s rubbish

Aida Edemariam, The Guardian
Every hour in Britain we throw away enough rubbish to fill the Albert Hall – and most of it ends up in overflowing landfill sites. But how much waste does each of us produce in 24 hours? And what can we do about it? Aida Edemariam asked the experts to analyse a day’s worth of her own garbage – and that of a diverse group of Guardian readers
…Worries about what we throw away, and how we do it, aren’t new. In something like 500BC, Athens moved municipal dumping well away from its city walls; Britain’s first dustmen were Romans; we all know, from school lessons or from films, about the cess-filled streets of medieval, even 19th-century London.

In 1874, Britain discovered the waste incinerator, and a year later, London acquired a sewerage system; a quarter of a century after that came the widespread use of landfill: all along, as Richard Girling puts it in his book Rubbish! Dirt on Our Hands and Crisis Ahead, “waste policy, as far as there was one, was driven by the politics of disgust”. Now, increasingly, it is driven by fear of the revenge our planet will inflict for our thousands of years of negligence. Driven, too, by sheer scale.

For there are more of us than ever before, and we live more closely packed together. Multiply my plastic cup or two, a sweet wrapper or three, by more than 60 million Britons, every day of every year, add industrial waste, electronic waste, hospital waste …

In 2004, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the United Kingdom produced about 335m tonnes of waste; every hour we throw away enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall. Last year, 5.5m tonnes of household waste were collected in England alone.

Each of Britain’s 29m households, says Mark Barthel, an expert in waste reduction for the government-funded Waste and Resources Action Programme (Wrap), throws away the weight-equivalent of one teenage elephant each year.
(11 June 2007)