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Why It Shouldn't Cost 5p to Realise We Need to Reduce Our Plastic Bag Waste

02/08/2013 09:47 BST | Updated 30/09/2013 10:12 BST

Back on World Oceans Day in June I made a promise to reduce my use of plastic bags in a bid to contribute to a global pledge to help protect our oceans. Since then I've been making a conscious effort to take tote canvas bags to the shops, to use my handbag when picking up small items and to simply just carry items home if possible.

Whilst there have been pros and cons to this approach - frozen peas melting in my bag, brain freeze from carrying milk for too long, I've felt pleased with the notable decrease in plastic bags I've used. There are definitely less floating aimlessly and taking over my kitchen.

Reducing plastic bag usage was just one of the things people around the world pledged as their Ocean Promise last World Oceans Day, and is part of addressing a larger need to prevent excessive environmental waste. It is one of the easier and simpler actions each of us can take to help reduce our individual impact, and together collectively start to make a change.

Last year the UK supermarkets alone used 8.1 billion single-use plastic bags; whilst this was an increase on figures from 2011 it demonstrates a fall of 32% from 2006 when figures were initially reported. Hopefully it shows that we are slowly becoming more aware of the need to decrease our plastic bag use and reduce our plastic waste. Increased popularity and the success of environmental awareness days such as World Oceans Day play an important role in helping us realise how our actions as individuals can have an impact within the larger global community.

And this is where our power as consumers can be demonstrated. Whether you choose to buy fairtrade, support local producers to reduce your carbon footprint or avoid products that contain ethically questionable ingredients such as palm oil - these are all small choices we can make that have commercial influence and the power to encourage change.

When it comes to reducing our usage of plastic bags, the potential for change is significant. Wales became the first UK country to introduce a charge for single-use carrier bags back in October 2011. Figures released this month have shown that since then, there has been between a staggering 96% and 70% reduction in the number of plastic bags being distributed by supermarkets. With Northern Ireland set to bring in the 5p charge this year and Scotland considering the move, England is likely to be left as the only UK country yet to recognise the drastic environmental protection potential.

It takes plastic bags over 1,000 years to degrade: that's a lot of time to get in trouble, filling up landfills, floating as waste in our oceans and being ingested by unknowing animals. By making the decision to reduce our use of plastics, to recycle what we do use or use reusable carriers we have the power to start initiating a positive change. It shouldn't cost us 5p to have that thought.

Maria Sowter is Online Content Editor at Frontier, a non-profit volunteering NGO that runs over 300 marine and environmental conservation projects around the globe. She can be found blogging on Frontier's Gap Year Blog or posting on the Frontier Official Facebook page.