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Londres e as sacolas plásticas

 

O eco de 14 de novembro de 2007

As famosas sacolas plásticas, alvo de muitas polêmicas ao redor do planeta, estão perto de virar apenas história. Pelo menos em Londres. É que nesta terça-feira, 33 conselhos da capital britânica decidiram se unir ao esforço nacional contra o uso gratuito do produto. A intenção é criar uma legislação para taxar um preço em cima de cada unidade fornecida pelas lojas da metrópole, além de incentivar a aquisição de bolsas de pano para carregar as mercadorias dos mercados até as residências.

A medida mereceu a reportagem de capa no jornal The Independent desta quarta-feira.

De acordo com o diário, é possível que as sacolas plásticas sejam banidas de uma vez por todas dentro de alguns anos.

The independent de 14 de novembro de 2007

London joins national campaign to banish the curse of the plastic bag

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent

British shops hand out a staggering 13 billion every year. But after a decision by 33 London councils yesterday, plastic bags could be soon be consigned to history, unmourned by anyone who cares about cleaning up the environment.

Eighty villages, towns and cities, including Brighton and Bath, have introduced or are considering a ban on them since shops in the Devon market town of Modbury went “plastic bag- free”. But yesterday represented the most significant move yet. The capital is now on board.

All 33 authorities in the London Councils group voted for legislation to prevent shops in the capital handing out free plastic bags. In the next fortnight Westminster Council will present a private Bill to the House of Commons which would apply to every London shop from the humblest newsagent to Harrods.

Shoppers clutching large numbers of bags in London’s West End could become a thing of the past; instead they will be asked to use sturdy reusable plastic “bags for life” or cotton or string hold-alls. London’s authorities said they needed to halt the environmental damage done by plastic bags, which use oil and landfill space and kill marine wildlife.

The ban is likely to be opposed by big retailers such as Tesco which prefer encouragement rather than coercion to change behaviour. But campaigners point to international trailblazers that have already banned the bags, places as diverse as Tasmania and Tanzania, which this year were joined by Paris and San Francisco. London would be the biggest urban centre yet to take the plunge.

Peter Robinson, director of Waste Watch, said: “We’ve seen successful action taken on carrier bags all across the world from Australia to Zanzibar, and now it’s time for London to take a lead on this issue in the UK.”

Although the London ban could take years to come into force, the groundswell of opposition to free disposable bags is unmistakable – and perhaps unstoppable. Major retailers have signed an agreement with the Government’s waste body, Wrap, to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bag use by 25 per cent by the end of next year. They are making the bags more lightweight, exploring biodegradable options, and discouraging their routine distribution.

Tesco says it has cut its use of carrier bags by 1 billion to 3 billion after a high-profile campaign to give loyalty points to shoppers reusing them. Today Sainsbury’s will announce in its financial results that it has cut plastic bag use by 10 per cent as a result of having signs at the checkouts asking shoppers to consider the environment and promoting jute and cotton bags. Marks & Spencer is to chargeshoppers 5p a plastic bag after a trial in Northern Ireland that cut the number handed out by 66 per cent.

The Government says it is monitoring the efforts in commerce, but is set against a plastic bag tax of the kind introduced five years ago in Ireland, where the number of carrier bags has fallen by 90 per cent. Officials claim there is evidence that Irish shoppers are using other types of plastic instead. The plastic revolution was started by a BBC camerawoman, Rebecca Hosking, from Modbury, after she had seen the deaths of albatross chicks that had eaten plastic. In the absence of government action, 43 traders in the town decided to start their own “plastic bag-free town” in May. The shops refused to give out free plastic bags, charging 5p for a cornstarch bag, 10p for a paper one or £1.50 for a cotton carrier.

Trade did not fall off, and the six-month experiment proved so successful that Modbury has made the change permanentand made the carrying of a plastic bag an antisocial activity.

Other towns such as Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire and Overton in Hampshire have followed suit, and the idea of going “plastic bag-free” is taking hold elsewhere, such as in Brighton, where councillors last month called on the city’s retailers to stop giving out bags.

The plastics industry insisted that such bans were environmentally harmful, arguing that re-use of plastic bags – to line bins, wrap packed lunches and scoop up dogs’ mess – made them more environmentally friendly than cotton alternatives, and that the oil used to make the HDPE (high density polyethylene) bags came from a by-product of oil.

Nonetheless, the industry says that unnecessary use of bags is a problem, and is calling on shoppers to consider whether they really need them. Peter Woodall, of the Packaging and Industrial Films Association, said: “We are losing the battle in terms of hearts and minds of the public, who now certainly believe that the plastic bag is a hazard to health and the environment and something we need to eradicate from society.”

Ms Hosking, who started the Modbury experiment, said that plastic bags were the start of a campaign against disposable consumer culture. “It’s our consumption of everything – whether it’s petrol, water or consumer goods – that is driving virtually every environmental problem on the planet and it needs to stop. We have shown that individual people can make a difference,” she said.

A local convenience, a global problem

Anyone who has seen The Graduate, one of the great movie classics, will remember vividly the single-word piece of advice that Dustin Hoffman’s confused young career-hopeful, Benjamin Braddock, receives from a well-meaning family friend: Plastics.

Asked to clarify what exactly he means, the family friend, Mr McGuire, explains: “There’s a great future in plastics.” And in 1967, when the film was made, no doubt there was.

Unfortunately, in the succeeding years, many aspects of what then seemed to be those oh-so-convenient, revolutionary, synthetic materials have come to appear not a blessing but a curse – and plastic bags are high on the list.

The trouble with them is that they have the vices of their virtues. They are incredibly cheap and light, and so are produced in astronomical, scarcely credible, numbers; and remarkably tough for their lightness, they are incredibly persistent in the environment once we have finished with them.

Nobody knows exactly how many plastic bags are consumed annually worldwide, but a good estimate is between 500 billion and 1,000 billion, which comes out at more than a million a minute – and then they’re all thrown away. But as they do not biodegrade, huge numbers don’t disappear. They have become the most ubiquitous item of litter. They are the icons of the throwaway society.

In parts of Africa, there are so many blowing through the bush that a cottage industry has sprung up in harvesting windblown bags and using them to weave hats, or even more bags.

But in some parts of the environment, they represent a lethal threat to wildlife, in particular in the oceans. According to the British Antarctic Survey, they have spread from Spitzbergen north of the Arctic Circle to the Falkland Islands at the other end of the globe.

When floating they can resemble jellyfish, and so are often mistakenly eaten by sea turtles and other marine mammals and birds, with fatal results.

No one denies plastic bags are satisfyingly convenient. But as Billy Joel sang, you pay for your satisfaction somewhere along the line.

Michael McCarthy

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