The single-use plastic and paper bags have become a standard feature when we shop.

And while more and more people are remembering to bring their reusable bags to pack up their groceries, it shouldn't just stop there.

When you stop and think about it, how many times did you really need that bag? Especially when a few minutes later the bag just ends up in the trash.

On average, single-use plastic bags get used for about 12 minutes before they are thrown away. But the reality is that they never go away. Even when burned at high temperatures, the particles of plastic still exist. It is both the particles and the plastic bags themselves that are polluting our oceans and contaminating the water. The bags and the particles are often ingested by sea life including jelly fish, turtles and fish. Plastics contaminate fish as well as drinking water and end up inside our bodies. A recent study by the US Center for Disease Control found the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) in the urine of 90 percent of the population. The chemical has been linked to cancer and neurological problems in rodents.

And paper bags aren't much better. The US cuts down 14 million trees per year in order to supply the demand for paper shopping bags, and the chemicals used in the manufacturing of paper bags also contribute to both water and air pollution.

While it is important for us to begin to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by remembering to pack reusable bags most are small enough to fold up and have in our cars, bike boxes or our purses and pockets Greenrock is also proposing to Government to charge for single-use paper and plastic bags.

"It seems crazy to me that we spend millions of dollars a year off the Island to ship in something that we use for five or 10 minutes, and which then become a disposal issue or a litter problem," explains Judith Landsberg, Greenrock's president. "The evidence is also accumulating that plastics contain chemicals which are toxic to human health the UN recently issued a report which identified some of the chemicals in plastic bags as human endocrine disruptors."

Greenrock is about to launch a petition to ask Cabinet to charge for single-use paper and plastic bags. The reasons behind a charge include:

  1. Charging for bags gives every person a choice; sometimes a bag is a convenience worth paying for, for example for our tourists or if you are on a bike.
  2. Charging for bags has been shown to cut usage by between 60 percent and 90 percent in other jurisdictions with bag charges.
  3. A charge makes you stop and think about it, making it more likely that we raise awareness of the environmental costs of the bags at the same time.

Charging for single-use plastic bags in other countries has proven effective. Since the charge was introduced in Ireland they have seen a 90 percent reduction in plastic shopping bag use.

In the two years since the bag charge was started in Washington, DC in 2010 it has raised $3.4 million and reduced plastic bag use by 60 percent.

"We have a choice: Most grocery stores provide alternative bags that are sturdy, inexpensive and can be used multiple times," says Dr Landsberg. "Twenty-five percent of the world already bans or charges for single-use bags and we should be joining them. It may sound inconvenient, but it is just a question of getting in to the habit of carrying a bag there are many that can be folded up and tucked into a purse or bike box and take up about the same amount of room as a phone."

The petition should be up and running in the next couple of weeks, she adds. The hope is for the bag charge to be modeled on the Washington, DC tax, in which some of the money goes towards the retailer as well as environmental projects.

To find out more information about the Washington, DC plastic bag charge, visit


This article first appeared in The Royal Gazette, 7 Mar 2013.

Learn more... about the 'No Thanks!' campaign to reduce use of disposable bags in Bermuda.

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