One of the many ways which you can help the environment is by decline a plastic bag whenever you are offered one. Put the item straight into your own bag or let it share with something you bought earlier.
So just try it. Try taking your own bags to the supermarket, one of those which offer a 'bag for life' or sell you plastic containers to put in your car - you know, one that likes to flaunt their environmental credentials.
First you have to try and avoid a packer; people employed by the supermarket to put no more than two items into each carrier bag, ideally putting a bag of potatoes on your loaf of bread and your bananas in with something frozen. They are even harder to avoid if they spot that you have a small child with you.
Next, you have to persuade the checkout assistant not to start packing while you are still emptying your trolley. This usually requires a minimum of three requests. Even then they may still try and sneak a few items into a bag, just to help you out.
A carrier bag tax similar to that introduced in Eire has been suggested for the UK; Most of the arguments against such a tax seem to be generated by the plastics industry and carrier bag manufacturers because they would lose business and retailers who fear that consumers would buy less.
According to Recycle Now, 150 million plastic carrier bags are used in the UK each week and they can take up to 500 years to decay in landfill. Many people do reuse them and others recycle them as bin liners, nappy sacks or poop scoops for their dogs, but anything that reduces an unnecessary use of resources is fine by me.
If such a tax was introduced people would soon get used to using their own bags or swallow the small charge (a figure of 10p is usually quoted) if they forget. In the meantime, every time we decline a plastic bag we are making our own little contribution to reducing material waste.
However I must confess to a slightly more selfish reason for reusing my carrier bags. Since I could not bring myself to throw them away I have to find somewhere to store them, and I hate having them cluttering up my house.
Update Dec 2007: Since this article was written in June 2006, the momentum towards reducing the numbers of carrier bags has increased enormously; I have found that I am no longer regarded as weird for not wanting a carrier bag in most shops now. A great victory. All we need now is for all shop assistants to ask if you need the bag, rather than you having to say that you don't want the bag.
About the Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the Editor of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.