Edinburgh is set to be the first Scottish city to work towards banning the use of plastic bags in our shops. At a meeting of the Transport, Infrastructure and Environment committee of the council last week, Councillor Alison Johnstone  proposed a scheme that will reward customers who choose to avoid using plastic bags. This scheme was first introduced and successfully run by Greener Leith and was highlighted in the Guardian Edinburgh blog.

Councillors have agreed to carry out a feasibility study concerning this scheme and if it goes ahead, participating shops will sell or give away organic cotton bags with a ‘We heart Edinburgh’ logo to shoppers. It is planned that these bags will then act as a sort of club or discount card, and the customer will be rewarded in form of a freebie, a voucher, or some kind of discount every time they used those bags.

Gordon  Millar who runs an online campaign to ban plastic bags, played a crucial part in introducing the bonus bag scheme to the Council. Through the movement “Global We” Millar is connected with other environmentalists around the world and currently has 17,000 followers.  Through the use of social media, the movement has been able to gather huge momentum.

Millar said that the Council’s support is a huge step towards his ultimate goal of banning all kinds of disposable plastics.

“As an environmental campaigner, I think it is the best scheme in the world,” Millar told The Edinburgh Reporter. “We are a global capital, a progressive city, with history of arts, culture, and independent movements. Let’s do it here first in Edinburgh.”

“It is our goal to leave a positive legacy for our community”, he said. “Plastic is a unique compound which didn’t exist before the last century. It is designed for single use but build to last forever. Disposable plastic will be there for centuries and there is nothing we can do about that.

“Plastic bags are the most used consumer item and they are a metaphor for our throwaway society.”

It is  Millar’s goal to raise awareness of this issue as most people have become blind towards the pollution that is caused by disposable plastics. He said:- “If you go to Princes Street Gardens, if you go to Holyrood Park, wherever you go, you will find plastic bags.  And that is not just around Edinburgh or Scotland, it is around the entire planet.”

More and more countries around the world realise that this unsustainable lifestyle is a serious issue. Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2002.

“They have had a 90 percent reduction in the first year.”, said Mr Millar. Both Wales and Northern Ireland are also planning to launch a plastic bag tax. And Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, has announced that for the 2012 Olympics he wants London to be a plastic bag free city.

Scotland is one of the countries which has not yet stopped excessive usage of these disposable plastics. According to the BBC, the UK is the highest user of landfill in Europe.

“There is a landfill tax for the land fill site in Edinburgh.  Taxpayers are currently paying £7m a year to put our waste into a hole in the ground and this is, in effect, taking £7m  of taxpayer’s money and burying it. This is going to go up by millions of pounds in the next few years. This money can be better spent”, said Mr Millar.

If asked whether it was likely that The Scottish Government would introduce legislation to ban plastic bags, Mr Millar pointed out that to ban disposable plastics successfully it is important that people first become aware of the importance of a sustainable lifestyle:- “We want to encourage autonomy first of all. We want to encourage people to be more environmentally aware and ultimately we would like legislation.”

“If this happens successfully in Edinburgh it will then spark over to other Scottish cities”, he continued, “we don’t need many people to do this to reach a big audience. A small group of people can change the world and we have proved this now.”

In case you are wondering Gordon Millar is holding some blue marbles in his hands in the photo. These were a personal gift to him from the leader of the Blue Marble global movement, an environmental group which aims to carry out random acts of ocean kindness, and which you can find out more about here. It is a site worth a visit – even just to see that the site knows where in the world you are…….!


  1. While I applaud the goals of creating a cleaner environment I do not concur with bans on specific, legally manufactured goods. This is just one more example of Nanny State mentalities that have an elite class dictating what you will and will not do. Had this been brought about by consent of the local voters this might be a different story. As it is this Mollinar looks like a disheveled homeless person quite detached from the local community at large. Do I want someone like this implementing policies for me without my consent? Absolutely not.

    So down the slippery slope we travel with bans on water bottles, disposable nappies, etc. until our choice is no choice. Just look at San Francisco CA. With all of their similar bans they are still going broke just like the whole of the state. The city councils should represent and humbly serve tax payers not dictate to them.

  2. Thank you very much Edinburgh Reporter!

    @Dr M: change is coming, and I’ve got a feeling you’re not going to like it. But, whether you like it or not, our pattern of consumption is unsustainable.

    We live in a ‘throwaway’ society, the result of a damaging combination of over-consumption and excessive production of disposable items….

    But just where exactly is ‘away’?

    It’s all around us, amongst the trees in Princes Street Gardens, along the banks of the Water of Leith, in the hedge-rows of our beautiful city parks, on the embankments of the City Bypass. Plastic pollution (or urban tumbleweed) is everywhere, and it is spreading right around the world. Which is why Edinburgh must take the lead on this global issue.

    The Republic of Ireland reduced plastic bag consumption by 90 per cent, having introduced a charge of 15 cents per bag in 2002. Wales will become the latest nation to introduce a charge of 5p on carrier bags from October this year to encourage shoppers to shift to reusable alternatives. And in Northern Ireland, the Single Use Plastic Bag Bill has been introduced to the Assembly, which will place a levy on plastic bags.

    A legal ban on handing out free single-use plastic bags could be brought in across Britain and Europe. Brussels is now considering pushing for the policy to be adopted by all 27 member states.

    So, we propose to roll out the Leith Bonus Bag loyalty scheme city-wide. The retailer provides their customers with our reusable bag and, when the customer returns to make a purchase with the bag, they receive a ‘bonus’ eg a discount or freebie or voucher. Simple. Positive. Progressive. A win-win situation for Edinburgh’s retailers and customers.

    We share a vision to raise awareness of Edinburgh nationally and internationally as a place to visit, invest, live, work and study.

    We would like to address the issue of the City of Edinburgh Council’s current £7m annual landfill tax bill, which is estimated to hit £12m by 2014, by providing alternatives to plastic carrier bags.

    In this campaign, we intend to move towards a total ban of plastic bags, promote Edinburgh as a global centre of progress, support local retailers/customers, and leave a positive legacy for our community.

    We would like to Keep Scotland Beautiful, and work from a throwaway to a zero waste society.

    What are your suggestions to stop the tax payer having to fork out £7 million, to hide our non-biodegradable consumer waste in a big hole in the ground?

    Kind regards,

    Gordon J Millar (campaign leader)

  3. As mentioned before Mr. Millar, we done this same sort of thing in the US. California has numerous bans in San Feancisco and is now bankrupt so that should cut down things being thrown away.
    You are campaign manager of this scheme so you are only touting the glossy side of things. Penalizing citizens with extra taxes and bans for their choice of using legally produced goods is just wrong. Why not simply go to the source? Move legislation through Parliment to make production of plastic bags illegal. This way taxpayers not advocates like yourself can choose what is best for your country. You are not the only one with ideas!

    In my state, we do not have such bans but nearly all retail stores offer reusable totes. Target even gives us 5 cents off our purchase if we decline plastic bags and use a tote. CVS Pharmacy also has a Green Bag incentive that rewards not penalizes people for choosing reusable bags over plastic disposables.

    These companies are doing very well because they reward not punish positive impacts on the environment. So these are some workable suggestions that don’t involve implementation of a Nanny State run by an elitist who thinks they know best. Mr. Millar, other than being an activist and project leader, do you yourself own a business or work for a living?
    Many people like to portray themselves are being devoted to their cause but being an advocate may be your only source of income. Your vision may be skewed accordingly therefore. Your cause is your livelihood so you may be out of touch with the reality of having to work for someone or make your payroll and look after employees. If you’ve done that then perhaps you might have better insight on the needs of your fellow citizens in Scotland who work for a living. Implementation of positive measures such as what I have detailed here have proven to work. Bans are not the answer.

  4. Thank you for your comments Dr M.

    Kind regards,

    Gordon J Millar (campaign leader)

    Incidentally, I work very hard for a living and am a taxpayer. I work long shifts, full-time, as a nurse in the local hospital. I want a better future for my children, and intend to leave a positive legacy for our community. Your support of our reusable bag reward scheme will be most welcome 🙂


  5. An interesting read I must say.Im all for Mr.Millars attempts to stop the use of plastic bags in our city I think he is to be commended for speaking out and implimenting change.Even more so because he works FULL-TIME as one of our City’s nurses,helping our sick AND still finding the time to campaign for something so beneficial to our community.Well done Mr.Millar you set a fine example as one of our future negotiators..Thank you for standing and speaking out sir.

  6. Firstly, I see that Dr M certainly started to loose the argument when he decided to get personal and attack Gordon Millar. I happen to know Gordon Millar well and can say without hesitation that he is an outstanding citizen. He is getting off his backside to make a difference and push for change for the benefit of his children and his children’s childern indeed everyone’s child. He understands that we are indeed on the edge of a catastophic environmental disaster and anyone who takes the time to criticise him must take a big look in the mirror and ask … what am I doing?

    Human beings are generally lazy on such matters because they mistakenly think its nothing to do with them and that they cant do anything about it. Well they can and they dont and this is why certain measures need to be imposed. I actually think that when push comes to shove people will understand and accept. They may actually engage so positively over time that not only will they come to understand the issue and needs but actually then co-operate to introduce other schemes or ways of change that includes removing any ban type policies.

    However, right now it does appear that a big shove is needed first, a type of fierce compassion for the planet and future of humanity. To simply do as Dr M suggests is not enough!!

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