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Do something drastic, stop using plastic

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I've been out and about in Haverfordwest today, a town which started a campaign three years ago to become 'plastic bag free'.

A local campaigning group created a cotton bag, designed by schoolchildren, complete with the slogan 'Do Something Drastic, Stop Using Plastic'.

The new re-usable bags being sold in Haverfordwest.

The new re-usable bags being sold in Haverfordwest.

There's a picture of a turtle on the bag - highlighting the fact that marine life doesn't always know the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish, and often becoming entangled in or swallow our castaway carriers.

This weekend, Wales will become the first country in the UK to charge customers for plastic (or single use) bags.

The minimum charge will be 5p per bag and retailers are supposed to nominate a charity for the levy revenue.

This week, the Marine Conservation Society issued a press release welcoming the new charge and reminding us all that in 2009 an estimated 350 million free plastic bags were used in Wales - that's a lot of plastic.

They've also highlighted the fact that more than 170 species of marine wildlife have mistaken litter for food, resulting in poisoning and fatal stomach blockages.

But will the charge make a difference? You could argue that 5p isn't much extra to pay on top of your average purchase but then again, it all mounts up.

Today, Coed Cadw, The Woodland Trust announced that the Lakeland store chain will be donating the money they raise from carrier bags to the charity.

So already, environmental groups and charities are looking forward to some extra cash. Surely, though, the main point is get us to change our shopping habits - it's about using less plastic to help the environment, not raising extra money isn't it?

I asked shoppers in Haverfordwest what they thought and although some had already begun using 'bags for life', quite a few people said they wouldn't be using less plastic bags, even if they have to pay for them.

As one woman said, 'I use mine to line the bins at home - I couldn't do without plastic bags'. It's amazing to think that we've only been using plastic bags for the last twenty years or so and before that, everyone took their own bag shopping.

I think it's about breaking hard habits - once you get used to taking a bag with you, it's easy to go 'cold turkey' with the plastic.

I can remember having a whole cupboard under the sink full of plastic bags - a plastic bag museum and you might think they'll come in handy, but in reality they rarely do.

One of the first retailers on the high street to charge for bags was Marks and Spencers back in 2008 and have reduced their food bag usage by 80%.

And in Ireland, where they also started charging (after some initial complaints) they've also seen the use of plastic bags go down by around 90%.

We don't have long to wait to see how we get on in Wales as the new charge comes into force from this Saturday, October 1.

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