Councillor pushes to ditch the plastic bags


Councillor pushes to ditch the plastic bags

09 August 2007

North Hertfordshire could be on the way to becoming a plastic bag-free zone.
North Hertfordshire could be on the way to becoming a plastic bag-free zone.

NORTH Hertfordshire could be on the way to becoming a plastic bag-free zone.

The district council's ruling Conservative Party is looking into the idea of following in the footsteps of a handful of towns in the UK and cutting the use of plastic bags across Hitchin, Letchworth GC, Baldock and the rest of North Herts.

The council does not have the power to ban plastic bags so it would have to be done voluntarily and jointly by residents and businesses in the area.

Writing in last week's Comet, the leader of the council, F John Smith, said: “I am minded to encourage North Hertfordshire District Council to undertake approaches to interested parties in our district to make it a bag-free area but I thought it might be sensible to invite preliminary comments now from whoever feels disposed to contact me at this stage.

North Herts District Council leader F John Smith - trying to get all businesses to stop using plastic bags
North Herts District Council leader F John Smith – trying to get all businesses to stop using plastic bags

“My personal view is that the use of strong paper bags or fibre shopping bags would lead to a useful reduction in the generation of waste and to a tidier environment. Do the people of North Herts agree?”

Yesterday (Wednesday), Cllr Smith said: “It has recently been reported in various places across the UK that this is being done and people think it's a good thing and I agree.

“At a meeting with my Conservative colleagues we agreed to test the water.”

Asked about the specifics of his plan, Cllr Smith said it was very early days and a lot more consultation had to be done.

William Armitage of David's Bookshop in Letchworth GC where they give out second-hand bags as well as selling second-hand books
William Armitage of David's Bookshop in Letchworth GC where they give out second-hand bags as well as selling second-hand books

However, he did say: “The intention would be to try to get all businesses to stop using them if they are based in North Hertfordshire and I hope it will take off.”

Cllr Smith said he is waiting to hear back from members of the public to see if there is a positive reaction to the idea. All the replies he has so far received have been favourable.

“Clearly there would have to be a very considered study into this and a lot of consultation still needs doing before we decide where to go with this,” Cllr Smith said.

Hitchin resident Giles Woodruff has recently been involved in a local campaign to try to reduce plastic bag use and said there were two environmental angles to consider: the impact of production and transport and the impact of the disposal of the bags.

Mr Woodruff said: “While paper is clearly more degradable than plastic, the manufacturing process is resource intensive. Also as paper bags are heavier than plastic bags they require more energy to transport and result in greater emissions.

“I would seek to persuade Cllr Smith that paper bags aren't part of a good environmental solution. I feel the goal should be to encourage people to use strong reusable bags, the sort that can last 20 years.”

Mr Woodruff added: “An initiative by NHDC will need the support of retailers and shoppers, but the arguments are convincing and if successful it could prove to be influential not just locally, but also nationally, which is quite an incentive.”

When asked whether they were considering similar initiatives a spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council said: “We don't have any plans to ban them as such but we have been working with retailers and supermarkets to reduce them. Also, all supermarkets in the town have facilities where you can recycle bags.”

A spokesman for Mid Beds council said: “Mid Beds does not currently have any specific work in progress on making Mid Beds a bag-free area.

“However we would encourage people to use the Bags for Life provided by supermarkets wherever possible and to reuse any plastic bags they have, as these cannot be accepted for recycling.”

# SOME business owners have already made efforts to cut down the number of plastic bags they give to customers.

The Comet visited Hitchin and Letchworth GC on Friday to speak to shop owners about the leader of North Herts District Council F John Smith's letter in last's week paper to see if any of them have already cut down on plastic bags they provide to customers.

David's Bookshop, in Letchworth GC, sells new as well as second-hand books. It also provides second-hand plastic bags if customers ask for them.

William Armitage, the shop's co-owner, said many of the bags are brought in by customers so they can be reused rather than being thrown away.

Mr Armitage said: “We take in bags second-hand and because we give these out we are in effect recycling them.

“We don't just give them out. Quite often we wait until shoppers ask for them.

“The amount of bags we give out has diminished a lot though as most people understand about the environment.”

Asked about whether North Hertfordshire could become a bag-free zone, Mr Armitage said: “It's something everyone has to do together and to work for together in the area.”

Fiona Collis, the owner of Gift in Arena Parade, Letchworth GC, said: “We are very conscious about the environment, we are also a Fairtrade shop.

“We ask if people want bags, we don't just give them out and people generally have their own.

“I think the idea is a very good one and it will be interesting to see if people are up for it.”

In Hitchin the reaction was quite similar.

Cheryl Stevens, a sales assistant at The Natural Clothing Store near St Mary's Church, said her shop provides customers with brown paper bags and recycled green plastic bags.

Mrs Stevens said: “We already provide bags which are more environmentally friendly.

“I think making the area a plastic bag-free zone is a good idea and I think it could be done.

“I think if we start small it could catch on because most people would be willing to give it a go.”

However, John Webb, a partner at J & S Webb in Hitchin, said it might be more difficult.

He explained: “There are those people who care about the environment and others who don't, who couldn't care less. It might be quite difficult to arrange.”

The Comet also spoke to members of the public about Cllr Smith's idea.

One resident of Hitchin, John Turner, said: “I'm all for it. It's a good idea by the councillor but he needs to work to persuade supermarkets to join in. After all, they give out the majority of plastic bags.”

A spokesman for Sainsbury's, which has stores in Hitchin, Letchworth GC and Stevenage, said the store has tried to educate its customers about the different types of bags on offer and would not necessarily stop providing plastic bags to customers.

The spokesman said: “We have made a big push as far as customer awareness is concerned, for example we have a Make a Difference day when we give away bags for life.

“We believe that the best solution for reducing the number of bags consumed is to educate rather than get rid of them completely.

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