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International Plastic Bag Free Day – 3 July

Blog by Yvonne Freeman, SI Folkestone

International plastic bag free day is celebrated worldwide on 3rd July.  It was originally established in 2010 by the Bag Free World organisation with the goal of highlighting the increased usage of non-renewable, single-use plastic throughout the world and to encourage people to reduce plastic usage.

There has been a limited degree of success and there is still a long way to go if we are to fully address the serious levels of pollution caused by plastic bags not only on land but, more importantly, in our oceans where the impact is the greatest.

The theme for the UN World Environment day on 5th June 2023 was focussed on solutions for plastic pollution under the campaign #BeatPlasticPolution.  It was hosted by Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the Netherlands.

On 3rd June 2023 in Paris, the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), which was attended by more than 1,700 participants from over 700 Member States, Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), was given the mandate to produce a zero draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution by November 2023.  Commenting at the conclusion of the session she said:

“I am encouraged by progress at INC-2 and the mandate to prepare a zero draft of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, and I look forward to INC-3 in Nairobi, and urge Member States to maintain this momentum. The world is calling for an agreement that is broad, innovative, inclusive and transparent, one that leans on science and learns from stakeholders, and one that ensures support for developing nations.”  [1]

This encouraging progress addresses Sustainable Development Goals 12 (Responsible Consumption & Production), 16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions) and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

In his message for World Environment Day 5th June 2023, UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres,  stressed the importance of curbing the catastrophic consequences of waste plastic saying:

“Every year, over 400 million tons of plastic is produced worldwide – one third of which is used just once.  Every day, the equivalent of over 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic is dumped into our oceans, rivers, and lakes.  Plastic is made from fossil fuels – the more plastic we produce, the more fossil fuel we burn, and the worse we make the climate crisis.”.

He noted that microplastics are finding their way into the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe, and he concluded by saying:

“We must work as one – governments, companies, and consumers alike – to break our addiction to plastics, champion zero waste, and build a truly circular economy.  Together, let us shape a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all.”[2]

Plastic bags are indeed one of the biggest contributors to plastic pollution and whilst most supermarkets now offer brown paper carrier bags as an alternative,  customers often opt to pay the extra for plastic carrier bags because they believe them to be stronger.  In May 2021, new legislation was introduced stating that retailers of any size must charge a minimum of 10p for single-use carrier bags in England and that you could be fined if you do not charge.  Only large retailers employing 250 or more full-time equivalent employers are required to record and report the number of single-use carrier bags they sell.  However, the law is complicated and there are many instances where no charge is required.  Furthermore, the guidance differs between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

There is hope, however, because in the UK at least there are signs of progress, particularly with regards to coastal towns.  In 2019 Guardian Newspaper featured ten plastic-free coastal towns which were good to visit. They are Whitstable in Kent, Lyme Regis in Dorset, Penzance in Cornwall, Hornsea in East Yorkshire, Hastings in East Sussex, Jersey (Channel Islands), North Devon, Broad Haven and Little Haven in Pembrokeshire,  St Bees in Cumbria and Anstruther in East Fife.[3]

Bristol City is aiming to become plastic free and Plastic Free Canterbury, which has been working hard for several years to reduce the use of plastic bags in the City, is holding a special launch event in July.

So, what can we as Soroptimists do to further encourage and promote the elimination of single-use use plastic bags?  Firstly, we must lead by example by not using them ourselves,  but opt for brown paper bags or, for heavier items, strong woven and hessian bags which can be re-used many times and which most supermarkets sell quite reasonably.  Secondly, we must highlight the serious implications of plastic bags disposed of on land and in the sea, which not only threaten the lives of animals but also enter the food chain, ultimately leading to human consumption.  Thirdly, for members of clubs who do not do beach cleans or litter picks, why not join another club’s event or consider setting up one of your own.  Finally, we must continue to lobby for further legislation to reduce and, hopefully, eventually eliminate the extensive use of plastic, especially where it enters the food chain.

[1] INC Chair to prepare zero draft of international agreement on plastic pollution as Paris negotiations end (

[2] World must ‘work as one’ to end plastic pollution: Guterres | UN News

[3] Plastic-free coast: 10 seaside communities to visit in the British Isles | United Kingdom holidays | The Guardian