The Power of People

Today, some great news greeted me in the pages of the Guardian: the UK has halved its plastic bag consumption simply because consumers have said no.

From 2007 to 2009, plastic bag use has been cut from 870 million to 450 million. Unlike in Ireland and other places, this reduction in bag use hasn't come about because the government implemented a fine on bags. Instead, it's come about simply because consumer awareness has been built. Supermarkets and individuals have changed their behavior a little- supermarkets by not automatically assuming you want a bag, and individuals by gradually learning to bring their own bags. And, over time, those little changes have added up to a big, national change.

Reading the article, I couldn't help but feel proud and hopeful. It's a small step, I know, but to me, it proves that people can and will change their behavior. And, I know all the economists love to talk about how fines and taxes can modify behavior, but I have to say, that it was really gratifying to see what people will do even when there is no fine, no stick, no carrot.

So, anytime any of you ethical consumers get told that you can't make a difference, think about the number of plastic bags saved by British shoppers this year and remember, yes, you can.