There was a fine demonstration of people power this Lent as a large number of Isle of Man residents said 'no' to plastic carrier bags offered in shops.
The 'Give Up Plastic Bags for Lent' environmental campaign was conceived by Zero Waste Mann to encourage us to reconsider our 'bag habits' and demonstrate to retailers that the public favours alternatives to the disposable bags routinely offered at cash tills.
The campaign was launched at the Green Centre in Douglas on Saturday 18th February, with rousing music from SambaMann, a special banner handmade by the children of St Thomas' Primary School, and a display stand with plenty of information about environmental pollution - and how to combat it.
Members of Zero Waste Mann were on hand to chat about the campaign and the wider work of the group, and to give out free 'pledge cards' which people could display at checkouts to show their commitment to the challenge. Interest was steady throughout the day and the group had gathered dozens of signatures by the end of the afternoon.
As a further incentive, the group was handing out 'Morsbags', reusable fabric bags sewn together from remnants by inmates at Isle of Man prison. While the heavy duty 'bags for life' now offered by supermarkets are, if continually reused, a step in the right direction, durable fabric alternatives are the most environmentally friendly option.
The statistics relating to plastic bag consumption are startling. Every year, EU consumers work their way through 800,000 tonnes of disposable carriers; more than four billion bags are thrown away each year, while only a miniscule proportion are recycled.
In the UK, 96% of the 2.5 million tonnes of household plastics used annually end up in landfill sites, where they may lie for decades before they begin to biodegrade. Waste plastic in the environment is both unsightly and a danger to wildlife; moreover, the manufacturing of disposable plastics is not only harmful to the environment but depletes the earth's natural resources.
'Reduce, reuse and recycle' is the mantra for organisations and individuals seeking to tackle the negative impact of plastics on the environment. In a public consultation recently carried out by the European Commission, most of the 15,000 people canvassed favoured a blanket ban on plastic bags; the Commission is now set to publish new proposals intended to reduce the number of plastic bags used annually across Europe.
However, as Zero Waste Mann's campaign has demonstrated, you don't need to wait for an official directive to take action. "By taking a grassroots approach", explained a spokesperson for the group, "we're hopefully putting out the message that as individuals, we can all do something about waste without waiting for the government to tell us.
"Giving up plastic bags may seem like a small thing but if everybody on the Island just avoids one plastic bag per week, that adds up to a large number."
One woman who took up the challenge commented, "It's all too easy to accept plastic bags without thinking, and then of course, you have to remember to go shopping armed with your reusable bags.
"But I got used to it, and the campaign really made me think not only about how much disposable plastic is being handed over the counter but also, how much unnecessary packaging surrounds us in our day to day lives. From now on, I want to make a conscious effort to help 'stem the tide'."
Zero Waste Mann is optimistic about the Isle of Man embracing a less plastic-heavy lifestyle: "Of course, now that we've got into the habit of taking our own bags and refusing plastic during Lent, we'll hopefully find it difficult to go back to our bad old ways.
"Giving up plastic is for all year round - once have cured our addiction and kicked the habit of using plastic bags."
If you'd like to find out more about Zero Waste Mann or Isle of Man Friends of the Earth, visit the Green Centre (situated on Market Street, below Chester Street Car Park) on Saturdays between 10am - 2pm. You can also email email@example.com or call (01624) 664796.
To discover more about 'sociable guerilla bagging', visit www.morsbags.com