Article published: Wednesday, October 16th 2013
A petition to ban plastic bags in the Manchester area has been launched this month.
Nick Clegg has announced that legislation for a 5p charge for plastic bags is to be introduced after the 2015 election. His announcement follows similar legislation in Northern Ireland and Wales, alongside Scotland from October next year. The Republic of Ireland has successfully established legislation for more than ten years, as have other countries around the world.
In Manchester, there was a pilot for a boycott of single-use plastic bags across Chorlton in 2007 and 2008. The campaign, run by residents and shop owners from the group Sustainable Chorlton, could not persuade 25 of the 40 targeted local traders to take part, some of whom “expressed concern that they would lose custom if they banned plastic bags”. Others supported the cause but felt “constrained by the economic cost of providing alternatives (10p) to plastic bags (1p)”. In its conclusion the report favoured “a city-wide campaign to promote reusable bags” to stem the production of “over 85 million plastic bags […] issued to Manchester residents each year”.
Clegg’s proposed 5p charge only applies to “supermarkets and larger stores”, which would mean many of those Chorlton traders approached in 2007 would be exempt, as would similar businesses across the city, and indeed the country.
Camilo Melara, a member of The 8th Day Co-operative, sees the proposed levy as half-hearted and is currently leading a campaign to implement a ban on the bags across the Manchester area. “Everyone still demands plastic bags like they’re part of their human rights or something. I think we need to put breaks in the consumerist culture in different areas, but plastics bags could be the first step – after that, you can talk about plastic bottles, for instance,” he says.
For Melara, there are three main challenges for his campaign – to convince consumers, retailers and the council. So far he has encountered responses from a council official that lament the layers of red tape preventing such legislation. He is not alone though, as others are starting to pledge their support. “What we are trying to do is to approach very symbolic institutions in Manchester. At the moment the environmental offices of the two universities are on board and then we’re going to try to attract other co-operatives to also work on the campaign. We’re going to have to do a lot of lobbying, but we’re supposed to have councillors representing the cooperatives movement, so they should do something for us as well.”
To help win hearts and minds, he has arranged screenings of the 2010 documentary film ‘Bag It’, which highlights the effects that plastic bags have on the environment before presenting the environmental impact of plastics generally, both on human beings and wildlife. It reveals a proliferation of the oil-based material even where unnecessary, such as on screw-top juice carton lids. The film also illustrates the desire for plastics manufacturers to fight their corner and retain the current trend by ploughing money into anti-tax or ban campaigns. The American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing US chemical companies, spent around $1.4 million on a 2009 campaign against the introduction of a plastic bag levy. The pro-tax environmental groups supported their campaign with about $65,000.
The last year has seen a re-emergence of high-profile protests against fracking, fossil fuels and global warming, many with the involvement of Manchester activists through groups like No Dash For Gas. But Melara says campaigning in Manchester has been “very quiet” by comparison with previous times – perhaps “related to so many defeats” – and hopes that the plastic bag campaign can also help spark a revival. “We could create a really good network, and if we achieve something at the end then people can get inspired to do something else – other more radical campaigns, hopefully.”
‘Bag It’ will be screened at the Manchester MULE ‘Friends of MULE’ fundraiser gig on 26th October at Pop Up Bikes on the Red Bank Arches – next to the new NOMA building. For more info click here. To sign the petition click here, or to get involved, contact Camilo via email@example.com.
An edit of this article appears in issue 7 of Now Then magazine.
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