New Internationalist

In the bag

March 2004
Emmanuel Vialet / Still Pictures /
Strange fruit: the discarded plastic bag has become the ‘national blossom’ of many countries. Emmanuel Vialet / Still Pictures /

The Irish call it the ‘national flag’; in South Africa it is known as the ‘national flower’. The plastic bag is surely the most ubiquitous consumer item on earth. Between four and five trillion (million million) were produced in 2002, most ending up in landfill sites.

Many others go airborne. Kenyan farmers complain that the bags get caught in trees; they also lodge in the throats of birds. Beijing authorities spend a fortune cleaning the bags out of gutters.

When the same problem threatened to choke the irrigation channels of snowmelt, crucial for agriculture in the high-altitude desert region of Ladakh in India, the local Ladakhi Women’s Alliance organized a ban. Flood-prone Bangladesh imposed a countrywide ban on plastic bags, also due to clogged drains and channels. South African laws to make bags more durable (and expensive) reduced use by 90 per cent. Australia, India, New Zealand/Aotearoa and the Philippines are among countries intending to follow Ireland’s lead in imposing a tax on bags which has reduced use by 95 per cent.

Worldwatch Institute

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 365 This column was published in the March 2004 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

Comments on In the bag

Leave your comment


  • Maximum characters allowed: 5000
  • Simple HTML allowed: bold, italic, and links

Registration is quick and easy. Plus you won’t have to re-type the blurry words to comment!
Register | Login

...And all is quiet.

Subscribe to Comments for this articleArticle Comment Feed RSS 2.0

Guidelines: Please be respectful of others when posting your reply.

Get our free fortnightly eNews


Videos from visionOntv’s globalviews channel.

Related articles

Recently in Currents

All Currents

Popular tags

All tags

This article was originally published in issue 365

New Internationalist Magazine issue 365
Issue 365

More articles from this issue

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

If you would like to know something about what's actually going on, rather than what people would like you to think was going on, then read the New Internationalist.

– Emma Thompson –

A subscription to suit you

Save money with a digital subscription. Give a gift subscription that will last all year. Or get yourself a free trial to New Internationalist. See our choice of offers.