Saving our planet; one bag at a time

March 31, 2008

Scotland’s first plastic-bag-free community

Filed under: Environment — Kaajal @ 4:28 pm

Scotland's first plastic-bag-free community

Selkirk city plans to become Scotland’s first plastic-bag-free community. In this article on the Business.Scotland.Com website, read about how they were inspired by Modbury’s success. Here’s the article:

Historic first in the bag as town declares war on plastic

As a town steeped in its common riding traditions, the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Selkirk has tended to concentrate on reliving its past.

It proudly proclaims itself as being the venue where William Wallace was declared Guardian of Scotland and on the second Friday of June the streets reverberate with the sound of 500 horses inspecting the boundaries as part of the annual festival celebrations.

Change is not something readily accepted by the 6,000 inhabitants of the Borders town.

But as from today, Selkirk traders are looking to the future and creating their own piece of history by becoming Scotland’s first plastic bag-free town.

They are following in the footsteps of Modbury in Devon, which became Britain’s first plastic bag-free town in May 2007 and is the forerunner for the environmentally friendly initiative.

As the Modbury website notes, several Scottish towns and cities – Banchory, Dunoon, Taynuilt, Dundee, North Berwick, Edinburgh, Falkirk, St Andrews and Ullapool – are all taking steps to shed the plastic bags.

But Selkirk claims to be Scotland’s first when traders stop distributing plastic bags today in preparation for the official launch on Friday, when free fair-trade, recycled, cotton shopping bags – in the town colours of blue and scarlet – will be distributed to shoppers in the town’s market square.

Volunteer organisers are reporting a positive response to the campaign with only four premises of the town’s 108 shops and businesses deciding not to participate.

Another 12 shops have pledged their full support and will provide environmentally friendly alternatives once their current stock of plastic bags runs out.

But with 96 per cent of the town’s traders committed to having a plastic bag-free town, it meets the Modbury criteria set at 75 per cent.

Campaign organiser Jenna Agate and her small committee have worked tirelessly over the past ten months, convincing traders to sign up, but they have hit stumbling blocks along the way.

Gordon Newlands, who runs Halliwell’s butchers in Market Place, said: “I support the campaign in principle, but there are 65,000 reasons why I cannot go along with it at the moment.

“That is the number of plastic bags I currently have in stock and it is going to take about five years to get rid of them. There are a few shops in a similar position.”

Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, Mr Newlands placed an advert in the local newspaper last week offering £50 meat vouchers for the furthest travelled Halliwell’s carrier bag (photographic evidence required) and also the most unusual place in Britain for one of his bags to be pictured. He insists it is a move to try and relieve his mounting stock, but the timing of his enterprise is regarded by many as more than coincidental.

Undeterred, Mrs Agate, 56, a choreographer and artist with her own studio in the town, is pressing on, to put Selkirk on the eco-friendly map.

The mother of two said: “Selkirk and its traders and shoppers should be rightly proud of this moment. We are becoming the first plastic bag-free town in Scotland.

“Selkirk is leading the way in our effort to respect the environment and look after our countryside. In our small way, we are making a difference. I am really proud of my town. Plastic bags are dreadful for the environment because they are everywhere. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do something about it now before it is too late.

“I read recently how a dead whale was washed up on the island of Mull and 23 plastic bags were found inside it.”

Her efforts have already won praise at national level, with the environment minister Michael Russell paying a visit to Selkirk to see how the campaign was progressing.

He said: “One of our ten environment pledges was for people to move away from plastic bags. So I fully recognise the importance of what they are trying to do here.

“I just wanted to meet them and pass on my congratulations because they are moving in the right direction. It is certainly the right thing to do and I am sure a lot of people will be watching what is happening in Selkirk and hopefully follow suit.”

Anna Hinnigan, who is helping Mrs Agate with the campaign, said: “I run a fabric firm in Selkirk and went along to a meeting of the Selkirk Chamber of Trade, where she was outlining her aims.

“I am no eco-warrior, but what she said was totally right. For instance, why do strawberries come in plastic cartons when they could easily be in paper bags? There is just so much waste when it comes to packaging. Some traders have not yet signed up to the pledge to stop distributing plastic bags for various reasons, but we hope to talk them round. (Make them read this blog of mine!!! They might change their mind and cooperate)

“There are also others who have been very supportive, but say they have to get rid of their stock first, which is understandable. But overall the response has been very encouraging and is Selkirk’s own small contribution to what is a very important issue.

“We want Selkirk and the Borders to retain their natural beauty without being overrun by plastic bags blowing about in the wind.”

The large cotton bags to be distributed to Souters – the nickname of Selkirk residents after the town’s traditional shoe cobblers – on 4 April come from Cornwall.

They are made in India and printed with vegetable dye, with the Selkirk design being the subject of a competition among local primary school children.

More about Selkirk:

Selkirk is derived from the Auld Scots words ’sheil’ and ‘kirk’ which means ‘the church in the forest’. Selkirk was the location and ancient seat in the Ettrick Forest for Scottish Kings and was given Royal status in the twelfth century.

A town on the edge of the Ettrick Forest, which once had its own castle and, for a short period in the twelfth century, an Abbey, although this was later moved to Kelso. The town was given vast tracts of burgh ground by the Scottish Kings, some of which are still owned by the town, administered by Scottish Borders Council; the Marches had to be defended against encroachment by neighbours.

During the middle ages, there was a large cottage industry in the town including spinning and weaving of cloth. The large mill buildings housed the town’s tweed industry following the Industrial Revolution, although the tweed industry today has virtually disappeared completely from the town.

The twin valleys of Ettrick and Yarrow provide some of the most stunning landscapes in the Scottish Borders; St Mary’s Loch, the largest stretch of water in Southern Scotland, is only 18 miles away from the town. The two valleys accommodate a wide range of activities encompassing cycling, walking, fishing and horse-riding.


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