British shoppers use more than 17 billion plastic bags per year - the equivalent of 350 for every adult. We use each one on average for only 12 minutes before throwing it away. Plastic bags are destined for landfill almost as soon as they are created, and add to the 2.8 million tonne mound of plastic waste produced in the UK every year. Some ends up in the sea, with every square mile of ocean now containing an average of 46,000 pieces of plastic, which choke and entangle sea birds and mammals.
1 Know your stuff
You need to be able to give informed answers to the questions of traders and shoppers, the first of which is bound to be, 'what's wrong with plastic bags?' Learn about the impact they have on the environment, and about the broader issues such as landfill and unsustainable lifestyles and have other success stories to hand: in Ireland there has been a massive (97.5%) reduction in the number of plastic bags given out since shops started charging for them.
2 Source an alternative
The ideal is to get people to use a reusable bag made from natural, compostable materials. An average cloth bag will save the owner from using at least 1,000 plastic bags. You will also need to find alternative disposable bags for shops to stock while people get into the habit of bringing their own bag, however, and for when they forget. Cornstarch and paper are both used in Modbury, but there are many options. Charging for bags will discourage people from using disposable bags and mean that traders can cover the extra cost of the nonplastic bags, which are more expensive.
3 Marketing & Support
You need a core team, including traders, prepared to do much of the legwork and willing to work together and to try to get the message out to everybody else! Keep the local press up to date and involve as many existing groups as possible. Making postcards and posters to display in shops, and tying in your campaign with other local events such as festivals can also work well. Having a brand or logo is a 'simple way of sending out a strong and coherent message'. 'It's crucial to get all or at least the majority of traders involved,' Handling supermarkets and highstreet chains is one of the biggest difficulties for a community going plastic bag free. Often chain stores need permission from head office, or even for company policy to change before they can act. Contact the area manager of your local supermarkets and other chains right at the beginning of your campaign to inform them of your plan; if they are unresponsive try head office.
'There is no reason why start-up costs should be prohibitive; you just need to work with what you have,' In Modbury, the first town to become plastic-bag free, the start-up costs were kept very low and covered by the traders themselves, who each paid £50 towards bag design, posters and setting up the website. The different campaigns around the UK have found various sources of cash, so look around to see who will support you. Friends of the Earth, local councils and community councils, local chambers of commerce, co-ops and recycling charities have all provided funding for plastic bag free campaigns.
5 The launch
To get the media and residents interested, start your campaign with a bang. In Hebden Bridge, campaigners set themselves a target of getting 80 per cent of shops to remove plastic bags on the launch day. Good PR is essential and a handout of at least one cloth bag per household is also a great idea if you can afford it - 'people love freebies,' says Hosking. For brightly coloured bags made from scrap material at no charge, try Morsbags.