So, last week it was reported in the news that plastic bag use has plummeted in England since the introduction of a 5p charge last year.
In the six months since the levy was brought in last October, 640 million plastic bags were used in the seven major supermarkets in England. In 2014, the waste reduction charity WRAP estimated the same shops had used 7.64 billion bags over the full year. If the trend were to continue over the year this would be a drop of 83%. Huge success! Why these statistics? I’ll come back to that later…
My name is Nneka and I am the Finance Manager at PECT. I have been in my role since August 2014 and have successfully managed to avoid writing a blog, up until now! I wouldn’t consider myself a wordsmith – give me numbers over words any day!
I grew up in a University community in the south east of Nigeria – a child of professors. We were in no way rich but neither were we deprived. We could pay for a driver, gardener and general help but I can assure you, my family didn’t believe in waste.
I am the last child of four so I have worn more than my fair share of hand-me-downs. You just had to look at my toys to see they were all missing an arm, a foot or a motor by the time I got to use them. And any packaging we reused until we had used the life out of it. We were the kings of recycling, but didn’t attribute a name to what we did at the time.
As a child, my first foray into the ‘business’ world, and of haggling, was selling used tin cans and newspapers/magazines to ladies called ‘Nwanyi Khom Khom’, which translates to ‘Khom Khom Lady’. (Khom Khom was the sound made if you were to beat a tin can like a drum). The Khom Khom ladies would call from house to house looking for what they could buy off the children. Adults weren’t too interested in the paltry amounts being made from those transactions – which came in handy for sweets from the corner shop. These items then got sold on to manufacturers in bulk and reused in the manufacturing process.
As a child, if we ever wanted to have soft drinks in the fridge (regular Coca-Cola, Pepsi etc.), they came in glass bottles which you would have to return to the retailer once empty. In fact, you had to own empty bottles to swap when you went to a retailer to buy. These bottles got sent back to the producers who then commercially washed and reused them.
It has been 10 years since I left Nigeria. I know for sure that the soft drinks companies have joined the plastic bandwagon but I’m not quite sure if the ‘Khom Khom ladies’ still go from door to door. I yearn for those good old days – the simpler days. But life happened. I grew up and inadvertently my life changed and probably my values too. Well, to be fair when you live in an environment where it’s cheaper and probably easier to buy a new television than have yours fixed (which I found out the hard way) or buy a new pair of shoes rather than visit a cobbler, then what do you do?
So, why did I add the statistic about plastic bags at the beginning? Well, I remember my first week at PECT and visiting a supermarket to buy some lunch with my manager at the time. As I reached out to put my purchases in a plastic bag, my manager (an environmental champion) said not to, and offered to carry them for me instead. At the time there wasn’t a 5p charge, but from that day I vowed to ditch the single-use plastic bags and try as much as possible to use re-usable bags.
And so began my journey back to who I was in Nigeria. That and a lot of other things I have picked up while at PECT have made me change my attitude and think more carefully about the environment. I continue to make changes to make sure that I live sustainably, so that my children and grandchildren get to enjoy the wonder of natural life all around us.
Nneka Ijere is the Finance Manager at Peterborough Environment City Trust.