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NESTA, 1 Plough Place, London EC4A 1DE
Apr – May 2008

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Plastic Fantastic? was put together for NESTA – the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts – focusing on single use carrier bags and reusable alternatives. This 6-week installation in NESTA’s front of house, featuring a film and selection of products, addressed the problems with plastic and showcased fantastic alternatives from [re]design’s network of sustainable UK designers.

 
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Plastics are amazingly versatile, durable materials that enable high volume, speedy, low unit cost production. So it’s not surprising they’ve proliferated – and radically changed our world over the last century.

But most plastics are made from oil, a finite resource that took millions of years to form. How can we square this huge geological timeframe, and the centuries it takes for plastics to break down, with the haphazard way we use these precious materials?

Single-use plastic carrier bags, used for minutes and then discarded, have come to symbolise a lazy, throwaway culture that puts convenience before the environment.

•    Londoners use 2.1 billion plastic bags every year – enough to carpet the capital one and a half times

•    UK carrier bag waste = 100,000 tonnes a year: the weight of 14,000 double-decker buses

•    Producing each plastic bag emits enough CO2 to fill 22 plastic bags

•    75% of shoppers say they want an outright ban on single-use bags, yet 88% currently put all their shopping into free carrier bags

•    On average each person in the UK consumes over 290 plastic carrier bags per year


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UK Government action…
“Over time we should aim to eliminate the single-use plastic bag altogether” – Gordon Brown.

Alistair Darling threatens a tax or levy on single-use plastic bags “if we have not seen sufficient progress on a voluntary basis” by 2009.

WRAP cautions that a charge “must tackle all carrier bags and not just one material.”

Paper bags, although renewable and biodegradable, are bulky and costly to transport, consume just as much energy as plastic bags, generate 5 times more solid waste, and take 10 times as much energy to recycle.

Ireland’s levy on single-use plastic bags led to a 90% reduction in use. However, use of paper bags, plastic bin liners and other bags increased. Irish government has yet to assess the levy’s overall environmental impact.

London Councils put a shopping bag bill to Parliament in November 2007 proposing a London-wide ban on single-use carrier bags in all materials.

Media campaigns…                          
'Banish the Bags' is the Daily Mail’s campaign to pressure government and supermarkets to reduce the number of plastic bags given out and encourage shoppers to switch to re-usable alternatives.

Retailers…                          
21 major UK Retailers issued a joint statement in February 2007 which aims for a 25% reduction in the environmental impact of carrier bags by the end of 2008.

Reduction strategies include degradable single-use bags, recycled-content bags, bags for life, reusable textile bags, charging for grocery bags, reward scheme for reusing bags, bags on request and bagless tills.                         

PLASTIC POTENTIAL?
Alternatives to virgin polythene for single-use bags…                         
RECYCLED PLASTIC BAGS: use a third of the energy, 10% of the water, and emit 60% less carbon dioxide                         
DEGRADABLE PLASTIC BAGS: polythene with additives that cause the plastic to decompose in sunlight, heat or moisture                         
STARCH-BLEND BAGS: plastics combined with starch, which biodegrades leaving a thin layer of plastic that will fragment into minute pieces                         
BIOPLASTIC BAGS: biodegradable plant-based plastics                        

All bags use energy, materials and water, and release greenhouse gases and other pollution in production, transportation and disposal. The biggest cuts in those impacts are made by reducing, re-using and recycling.

Retailers and shoppers can reduce the number of single-use bags by choosing durable reusable bags...

MODBURY BAG – BAGS2KEEP The official reusable bag of Modbury in Devon, the UK’s first plastic bag free town
MORSBAGS This “sociable guerrilla bagging” network have given thousands of home-made bags to shoppers for free                           
I’M NOT A PLASTIC BAG – ANYA HINDMARCH Iconic design that sparked debate on plastic bags and made it cool to shun them                          
PLASTIC AIN’T MY BAG – WE ARE WHAT WE DO Campaign encouraging consumers to refuse plastic bags, and shops to adopt “bags on request” policies                          
BAGS OF CHANGE Organic hemp-cotton bag that earns reward points at local, organic and Fairtrade retailers                                                   
THE ONE BAG Range of reusable bags that earn points each time they’re used – for charity or spending                          
CARRY-A-BAG Reversible shopping bags lined with reclaimed fabrics, with a message encouraging bag reuse                          
STRIPY BAG – NAT THAKUR Stripy carrier bag hand-made in durable fine leather – a witty comment on waste and luxury                          
ONELESSPLASTICBAG Light, space-saving bag which folds away into a pocket – made from reclaimed sari fabrics                           
ORGANIC TURTLE BAG Strong, durable organic cotton string bag – approved by WWF for its ethical and environmental credentials                          
BE ECO BAG Compact bag designed to store, carry and dispense a supply of plastic or reusable bags
BIRTY – EMMA BERRY A discarded skirt reinvented as a unique bag which can be made at home
SHOPPING SCOOTER BAG Transport for both shopping and shopper – a scooter and bag that converts into a backpack

The plastic bag lives on in these innovative designs…

PLASTIC BAG SHEET – SMILE Decorative plastic panelling made by heating and squashing used plastic bags in a hydraulic press
INKUKU STOOL – RYAN FRANK Bold, bright stool made with reclaimed plastic bags using a South African township technique
RE-FIND – KATE WARD Knitted handbags making the most of the bright, eye-catching colours of plastic bags
PLASTIC BAG POUFFE – CERYS MARKS Colourful pouffe crocheted from plastic bags – designed to store plastic bags as stuffing
PLASTIC BAG KEYRING – CERYS MARKS Crocheted keyring that stores up to three carrier bags – making it easy to reuse them
BLOOM BROOCH – LAURA MARSDEN Delicate brooch turning traditional lace-making techniques into an innovative way of recycling plastic bags
CUFF – BAGS2RICHES Heat-formed jewellery revealing the decorative potential of plastic bags and other polythene packaging
BUT I THOUGHT IT WOULD COME TRUE – EMMA NEUBERG Fantastical design made by heat-pressing plastic bags and packaging onto an old denim skirt
BINVENTION MK III – SPROUT Flat-pack bin that reuses plastic bags and makes it simple to separate rubbish for recycling 


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Exhibitors:

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WWF/ Turtle Bags
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