A Green Cyprus friend contacted me recently to complain about the number of plastic bags used by a well known retailer and that they they had written to the management to complain about it. It’s not the first time I have been contacted in connection with this matter; it crops up time and time again and for this reason, I felt it was time we had a say on this issue.
The over-use of plastic bags by many of the retail establishments in Cyprus is astonishing and I for one, am blown away by the huge numbers that are handed to customers, especially by the supermarkets.
We are all aware of the dangers and health hazards associated with littering the environment and this discussion on plastic bags is, I feel, quite timely with the clean-up campaign approaching on 29th September.
Plastic bags are one of the most common forms of waste found on beaches and they can have dire consequences for marine life, killing or injuring hundreds of turtles, whales, birds, fish and other marine life every year. It is estimated that over the last 25 years 7,825,319 plastic bags have been collected from beaches around the world! So, yes, we are all to blame the world over, but bearing in mind we are officially one of the worst rubbish offenders in Europe (and highest plastic bag users, I suspect), it’s about time we finally did something about it.
I believe both we as consumers and the supermarkets, etc, share the blame for the situation we have found ourselves in. To be fair, the establishments I am referring to have made some attempts to do their bit for the environment by introducing recycled plastic bags which break down more easily in the environment. I have even seen re-usable bags on sale although they don’t seem to be flying off the shelves.
Where the supermarkets fall down is usually where they have staff on hand to help you pack your shopping; they behave like they are desperate to get rid off them! Several times, I have had single items packed into one bag, it’s that bad! More often than not, you find yourself loading up the boot of your car with way too many bags needed for the amount of shopping you have bought. In fact, I would say this is true of nearly every shopping trip.
Having said that, I, as many others I’m sure, are perhaps a bit guilty of accepting all these bags and not saying ‘no’. Or perhaps, we just don’t care enough? Maybe we need to be ‘told’ to behave more responsibly. Sometimes in life, things have to be forced on you to make you toe the line. It’s human nature I guess!
Take M&S (UK stores); they have taken huge steps to be perceived as ethical and a conscious decision to embrace green practices associated with how they conduct their business. Take a trip to any of their stores – if you’re buying food and you don’t bring your own bag, you get charged for a new one. Many other retailers have followed suit. A few years ago, when they introduced these policies, they were hard to swallow. Pay for a bag? It seemed absurd. Nowadays, it’s the norm and perfectly acceptable. Certainly when I visit the UK, it is now second nature for me to bring a used plastic or other reusable bag with me when I’m out shopping.
In some parts of the world, the issue is being taken even more seriously.The Superior Court in San Francisco recently upheld an ordinance that bans most retail locations from distributing plastic bags and have begun charging customers a dime for each paper bag (or comparatively more expensive compostable plastic bag) they use.
The ordinance expands a 2007 law that banned non-compostable plastic bags at large supermarkets and pharmacies. When the new prohibition goes into effect on 1st October, it will extend to all retail stores and finally to all restaurants in the city starting next summer.
In an effort to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags whenever they go shopping, the law also imposes a small fee for the use of paper bags. The money generated from these fees will be kept by the individual stores. Any store caught flouting the ban will be fined up to $500 for each violation.
Such measures to scale back on waste from plastic products is increasingly becoming a priority around the world. Later this month, the Indian capital of Delhi, the world’s fifth largest city, will begin to enforce its own ban on plastic bags.
As much as I would love to see similar kinds of policies adopted here in Cyprus, I’m not sure the authorities would adopt this kind of stance – we are generally not very good at abiding by laws/regulations & policies but….if you are penalised financially for not heeding the law, then you’re more likely to comply! So that has to be the way to go – it’s a tried and tested formula.
In the meantime, the supermarkets need to make a stance. It’s a bold move but one I feel that needs to be taken. If they start charging say 10 cents per bag, people will start bringing their own and suddenly the thousands they dish out every day will be greatly reduced. It makes economic sense too. It’s a policy that could actually see them save themselves money!
We can also help the situation by making a point of being more conscious about polluting our environment and saying ‘no’ to plastic bags. To quote actor, Jeremy Irons from the short film “Trashed” which he co-produced with Vangelis: "I tell people – unwrap everything in the supermarket you don’t need wrapped. Leave it there". And that’s exactly the stance we should follow. If you don’t need a bag, don’t take it. Better still, bring your own – and help Cyprus become a cleaner and greener place to live!
Green Cyprus is participating in nationwide cleaning campaign, Lets DoIt Cyprus on 29th September and has organised a team of volunteers to help clean up Dasoudi Beach, Limassol. If you’re interested in joining us, please visit our facebook page and sign up. Alternatively, why not consider joining one of the many other teams around Cyprus. Visit for further information