Having long been a supporter of the highly successful 'plas tax' in Ireland (which has reduced plastic bag consumption by over 95%), and having written elsewhere at length on this issue, I was delighted to read yesterday not only of action in Japan, which comes hot on the heels of Zanzibar's decision to ban the import and production of plastic bags to protect its environment and tourism industry.
The big problem with plastic bags (a lucrative by-product of the oil industry) is of course their disposal. Plastic bags – unlike paper, cotton or jute bags - do not biodegrade. They photodegrade; breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits which in turn contaminate our soil and waterways. For each bag, this process continues for over 500 years until it has finally broken down, all the time releasing carbon dioxide emissions which in turn contributes to global warming.
Just off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, Zanzibar is on a major route for plastic bags heading for the east African mainland. It estimates more than 200 tonnes of bags pass through its port every month.
"We have to put the environment above everything," Zanzibar's Director of Environment Ali Juma said. "Besides being an eyesore, plastic bags are very damaging to land and marine life."
Tourism is the backbone of the island's economy. Zanzibar has major problems managing sewage and rubbish. Less than 10 percent of sewage is treated and it can get rid of only about a third of the 200 tonnes of rubbish produced daily.
Now over 40 countries have ignored lobbying by the oil industry and supermarkets and simply banned the plastic bag - surely this is one positive solution that the UK should now embrace?