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Shifting to re-use – It’s in the bag

Iain Gulland - Director, Zero Waste Scotland | 16 Oct 14

A paradigm shift, is we know, a dramatic change. It’s defined as, according to the 1960s book by scientist Thomas Kuhn, “a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science”.

The humble carrier bag – currently, by definition, a ‘single-use’ bag – has the power to effect such a shift.

From next Monday (20th October), whenever you take a single-use bag with goods purchased in Scotland, you’ll need to pay at least 5p for it.

It doesn’t sound like such a big deal until you consider 750 million single-use carrier bags are given out every year in Scotland – the highest number of bags per head in the United Kingdom.

Just consider for a minute the absurdity of pouring precious resources – energy, raw materials, human effort – into creating and transporting items which will be used once only in most cases, before ending up as …what?

Litter, in many cases. We almost don’t notice anymore, the bags that blow around our streets, cluster in our trees, languish in our burns and seas, and choke our wildlife.

Single-usage, especially on this scale, is a one-way ticket to nowhere, and it’s the basis on which too much of our economic model is constructed.

Carrier bags are totemic because they perform an essential function; everyone uses them; and they are an intrinsic part and symbol of a disposable culture which can and must change as we look to conserve our planet’s resources for future generations.

Zero Waste Scotland is supporting the charge, we’re supporting the Scottish Government’s strategy on litter, and we are also striving to build up capacity in Scotland for re-use businesses and projects which  make much smarter use of existing resources and have the potential to support sustainable economic  growth and jobs into the future.

If shoppers start shunning single-use bags in favour of reusable options and it gets people asking, “why stop there?” that will be a paradigm shift indeed. 

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