Dear Boris

I commend you for your commitment to making London a more
sustainable city for the 21st century. I was most impressed by the
“Boris’s Bikes” initiative, and am now writing to you about your
pledge to ban the plastic bag from London stores.

I am an ocean rower, and have been campaigning for bans on plastic
bags since encountering the North Pacific Garbage Patch while rowing
from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2008, on my way to becoming the
first woman to row solo across the Pacific. I am writing to you now
from my rowboat, roughly halfway across the Indian Ocean.

I am co-patron (with Zac Goldsmith, MP) of Greener Upon Thames, the
organization that has been campaigning for a plastic-bag-free
Olympics. I am sure I speak for them when I say that we would be
delighted to see a permanent and London-wide ban on plastic bags as
a welcome overshoot of that original goal, and would be more than
happy to support, advise and inform any such initiative.

I would urge you to impose a ban, rather than a charge, for the
following reasons:

1. As a former office worker myself, I would guess that a small
charge for a plastic bag to carry a GBP 5.00 sandwich back to their
desks might not be enough to persuade the majority to bring their
own bags. Some may even regard the charge as a convenient way to
make their charitable donations.

2. Plastic bags are inherently unsustainable and antisocial.
Imposing a charge rather than a ban sends a mixed message, as if the
penance will earn environmental absolution. An outright ban sends a
much clearer message.

3. Retailers will continue to produce plastic bags until the effect
of a charge can be evaluated. Once the raw materials have been made
into plastic, those bags cannot be un-made. Better to have a clear
cut-off date beyond which plastic bags must not be distributed by
London stores.

I believe that there has been resistance from the retailers to a
ban. I hope it may prove persuasive to advocate the advantages of
selling tasteful, environmentally responsible bags made from
sustainable materials such as hemp, jute or organic cotton, bearing
the retailers’ logos. These will be longer-lasting and demonstrate
the retailer’s commitment to quality much better than cheap plastic

Again, thank you for the significant steps you have taken so far
towards a more sustainable London. As a dedicated environmental
campaigner, I am enormously encouraged to see real progress being
made, and hope you will keep up the great work. Please don’t
hesitate to ask if there is anything I can do to help further the cause.

Yours sincerely
Roz Savage
Ocean Rower

21st August, 2011

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*Boris Johnson is Mayor of London.

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  • Rozlings who haven’t yet signed the petition, please help Roz promote a plastic-bag-free Olympics by signing (add a comment if you like) then check out your name and comment at

    Roz, here’s to hoping you see many more schools of fish and much less rubbish on your row.

  • Spread ripples of change,  share the petition with your social networks.
    Podcast Episode 45, Seething, Frothy, Calm is online.  (link above)
    Cheers, Happy Sunsets!
    A beautiful blonde teenager, wanting to earn some extra money for the summer, decided to hire herself out as a ‘handy-woman’, and started canvassing a nearby well-to-do neighborhood.
    She went to the front door of the first house, and asked the owner if he had any odd jobs that she could do.
    ” Well, I guess I could use somebody to paint my porch,” he said. “How much will you charge me?”
    Delighted, the girl quickly responded, “How about $50?”
    The man agreed and  told her that the paint brushes and everything she would need was in the  garage.  The man’s wife, hearing the conversation, said to her husband, ‘Does she realize that our porch goes ALL the way around the house?’
    He responded, “That’s a bit cynical, isn’t it? She was standing on the porch.”
    The wife replied, “You’re right. I guess I’m starting to believe all those dumb blonde jokes we’ve been getting by e-mail lately.”
    Later that day, the blonde came to the door to collect her money.
    “You’re finished already?”  the startled husband asked.
    “Yes”, the blonde replied, “and I even had paint left over, so I gave it two  coats.”
    Impressed, the man reached into his pocket for the $50, and handed it to her along with a  ten dollar tip.
    “And by the  way” the blonde added, “It’s not a  Porch, it’s a Ferrari”

  • Very good letter Roz. More threatening than the single use plastic bag is the concept of “multiple use” plastic bags like those available at many high end retailers. While they are more expensive than the single use bag, they would be an easy way around a ban on single use bags. So you are right in calling for an all out ban on plastic bags.

    Even so, in addition to the points you made there you need to bring back the focus to the single use bag concept. Even a bag made of “sustainable” material just becomes more garbage if it is tossed after a one time trip home. It is not the bags themselves that are bad. It is human behavior with them that causes the problem. While the oceans will benefit from a ban on plastic, our city streets will look just as bad if littered with thousands of tossed out hemp bags.

    A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to ask friends in the UK about the hundreds of aluminum cans I encountered along city streets. I learned that while there are recycling centers to use in the UK, it is difficult for individuals to collect these cans and sell them to metal recycling companies. Here in the US, I pick up all the cans and plastic bottles I see when I am out and about. The bottles I recycle for no compensation but the cans fetch 2 – 3 cents apiece at current metals prices. Collecting and selling these cans is a main source of income for some homeless people in our town.

    I use this can analogy to support your point that a few cent “surcharge” on bags will not prevent their being tossed, But I also bring it up because it illustrates the huge behavioral hurdle we have to overcome in reducing and eliminating the disposal of packaging and containers. I think we need to fundamentally change the way we look at waste. For some in our society, I believe that no amount of financial penalty will change their behavior. We need to take away the opportunity for making bad choices. We may have free will, but we often do not exercise it well.

  • I agree that a ban would be more effective than a fee. Most people are not motivated or demotivated by small things.

     I ride my bike to work most days,  a bit over 16 miles each way.  My main motivation is not the small amount of greenhouse gases I am not putting into the atmosphere. It’s the bigger, more immediate benefits.

    I gave up owning a second car and I am saving a ton of money.  I am getting a lot of exercise without joining a gym. (My back hardly ever hurts anymore since riding strengthens it.) I weigh about 5 pounds more than I did in High School (I graduated in 1972)  And I find things on the road.  Every day I find money, it’s a bit of a game to see how much.  I have found gold jewelry, lots of tools, bungee cords, one time an almost full gas can which I used a whole season in my lawnmower.  So I have fun with it too.

    I enjoy being out there instead of in a car with other people zooming past and cutting me off.  I have to leave a lot earlier, but there’s very little traffic.  There are some setbacks and I guess we will never do without that first car.  I can’t row like you Roz, but I can peddle about 33 miles a day, still get to work and home again and if it helps the earth a little bit, great, but it helps me a lot too.

  • This is what I sent. If we all doe something similar….

    21 August, 2011

    Dear Boris Johnson.

    Because I’ve lived in California for the past 20 years and
    know you only through your Telegraph column (and Wikipedia) I hope you won’t
    think this request an impertinence.

    I want you to ban plastic bags from London during the

    You will have seen the letter from my friend the increasingly
    famous Rosalind ‘Roz’ Savage who is currently rowing, alone and unsupported, across
    the Indian Ocean (having already conquered the Atlantic and Pacific) in part to
    draw attention to the problems caused by discarded plastics generally and “carrier”
    bags in particular.

    Those bags catch the slightest breeze and can travel huge
    distances. They take many years to decompose and leave toxins that are
    accumulating in the food chain. Many of those that reach the sea – and many do –
    are mistaken for jellyfish or swallowed unseen by creatures which then die from
    simple starvation.

    As a Conservative I am very much against
    the very idea of government forcing behaviours, preferring persuasion and
    education. In this case, however, as a conservative the seriousness of the
    problem and the opportunity for publicity provided by the forthcoming Olympics
    prompts me to make this request.



    John C. Kay

  • Well said, Roz!  As a former Londoner I would be proud to know that London led the way in banning plastic bags and promoting sustainable alternatives. The Olympics could also be an opportunity to streamline and simplify recycling in the London area–thank you for speaking out and lending your fame and sterling reputation to the cause with your letter!!

    Row smoothly, Roz!

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