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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 13:36 GMT
In defence of plastic bags
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

A plastic bag blows in the wind

Critics blame the carrier bag for all manner of eco-ills. But is there nothing good about plastic bags?

Made from petroleum.
And in China.
Disposable.
And fluttering from a tree branch or sitting sodden in a gutter near you.

It's little wonder that plastic bags are the environmental scourge of our age.

From Ireland to Bangladesh, the United States to Uganda, there are moves to curb their use through taxes or bans. The British government so far refuses to follow suit, but villages, towns and cities have imposed individual crackdowns. Among the first was Modbury in Devon, which on Thursday made its trial ban permanent.

But what say its fans? Very little, for this is the love that dare not speak its name. Yet a stash stuffed into a larger plastic bag or purpose-made dispenser has become a household fixture. Here are 10 reasons to love carrier bags:

1. Plastic bags don't litter, people do.

2. Witches knickers. National flower. White pollution. The unlovely sight of plastic bags in their wild state are given poetic names in Ireland, South Africa and China respectively.

3. Unlike cloth or paper, plastic contains nasty smells and seepages. Hence their popularity with dog owners and parents of children young enough to be in nappies.

Sheltering under a plastic bag at Ascot
Where did you get that hat?
4. And what plastic doesn't let out, it also doesn't let in. Many a Wimbledon fan has fashioned a makeshift rain hat from a plastic bag when the inevitable deluge interrupts play. And a carrier bag makes a handy saddle cover for cyclists.

5. Being durable and waterproof makes plastic bags a boon for users of public transport, enabling them to carry more without recourse to a car.

6. Reuse is as big with environmentalists as recycling. Even with taxes and bans, carrier bags will still accumulate in our homes so we need to find ways to extend their useful life. Handily, they are the perfect size for lining bathroom or office bins. When Ireland imposed its Plastax in 2002, sales of bin liners rose, says Richard Dodd, of the British Retail Consortium.

7. Free money is on offer for those who reuse their plastic bags at the supermarket. And as the phrase goes, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

UK PLASTIC BAG FACTS
Stash of plastic bags
We use on average 167 a year
That's 10bn a year
Only one in every 200 bags is recycled
Plastics can take up to 400 years to break down in a landfill
Source: We Are What We Do
8. Weigh a plastic bag. Light as a feather. Keen recyclers will hardly break a sweat lugging a bag of empties to the supermarket recycling point. Which is also a handy place to restock should you buy too many groceries to fit in your Anya Hindmarsh I'm Not A Plastic Bag bag.

9. Uncomfortable with must-have bag syndrome, be it the latest designer handbag or a 5 eco-tote? The plastic carrier bag is the perfect riposte to rampant consumerism. But it is also a symptom of our enthusiasm for buying stuff. Such a duality speaks volumes about our modern age, which is perhaps why it is de rigueur for arts students to carry plastic bags.

10. It's embarrassing being mistaken for a shoplifter while carting a paid-for - but un-bagged - item from the store.

Despite the more sustainable alternatives available, there will always be a need for carrier bags, says Mr Dodd. "They are needed when you buy stuff spontaneously, and few of the bags people have at home will be suitable if they buy a new suit or gadget."

Plastic bags became officially sanctioned hand luggage after terror alerts last year
Officially sanctioned hand luggage
And he believes plastic bags have been unfairly demonised as an environmental blight. Three percent of waste in UK landfills is packaging, and a 10th of 1% are carrier bags. When San Francisco was preparing for its bag ban earlier this year, a litter audit found that plastic bags accounted for 0.6% of rubbish.

Having come into mainstream use in the early 1980s, plastic carrier bags are already heading for extinction in the switch to biodegradable materials. What snapshot of our age will future archaeologists deduce when they unearth centuries-old bags of dog poo?

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