Best of our wild blogs: 30 Sep 16

Fun with R.U.M. mangrove workshop!
wild shores of singapore

Fires driving deforestation in Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem

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PUB to award contract for $400-500m desalination plant next month

Tan Hwee Hwee, Business Times AsiaOne 29 Sep 16;

SINGAPORE - National water agency PUB is expected to unveil, within weeks, the winner of a S$400-500 million contract for the construction of Singapore's fourth desalination plant under a design, build, own and operate (DBOO) arrangement.

In April, PUB had announced the tender for the 30 million gallon plant to be built in Marina East. The Business Times understands that the tender drew six bids - four were from Singapore-listed entities Hyflux, United Engineers (UE), Sembcorp Industries and the infrastructure business unit of Keppel Corporation; two others were from the China-linked MCC Land Pte Ltd and Spain's Tedagua.

The tender is understood to entail a two-stage evaluation of the commercial and technical elements of the proposals from the bidders.

After the first-stage evaluation, UE was leading by a wide margin, based on its proposed tariffs for the plant. But informed sources said that technical parameters such as the energy efficiency of the proposed plant would weigh in in the second stage.

A factor that could also influence the outcome of the tender is if any of the bidders (potentially Hyflux, Keppel Corp and Sembcorp Industries) proposes tapping the excess power generated by its existing projects to enhance the overall competitiveness of its proposal.

All four Singapore-listed contenders have previously bagged water-treatment projects from PUB. Hyflux won the contracts for Singapore's first two desalination plants, SingSpring and Tuaspring; Keppel-Seghers, Sembcorp Industries and UE bagged contracts for three NEWater plants.

Sembcorp Industries confirmed to BT its participation in the tender for the Marina East plant.

A Keppel spokesman said, without commenting directly on the tender, that the conglomerate is "regularly evaluating opportunities to grow its businesses". Hyflux and UE did not respond.

Between the two other bidders, Spain's Tedagua is supporting HSL Constructor Pte Ltd in the delivery of a process solution for Singapore's third desalination plant in Tuas.

MCC Land is the Singapore-based property development unit of Shanghai-listed Metallurgy Corporation of China's subsidiary in Singapore, MCC Singapore. MCC Singapore has been involved in the construction of HDB projects, including the main lift-upgrading programmes.

The Marina East desalination plant will add another 137,000 cubic metres (about 30 million gallons) of desalinated water a day to Singapore's water supply.

The award of the contract is expected in October, with construction of the plant projected for 2019.

PUB is aiming to expand its desalination and NEWater capacities to meet up to 85 per cent of Singapore's water needs by 2060.

Singapore is drawing 100 million gallons a day, about a quarter of its daily water demand, from the two desalination plants already in use.

PUB's third desalination facility in Tuas will have a capacity of 30 million gallons per day and begin operations by 2019. After the Marina East plant, a fifth plant, also with a capacity of 30 million gallons, is on the table for Jurong Island; it will be completed around 2020.

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Malaysia: Murai birds worth RM23K seized

NABILA AHMAD The Star 29 Sep 16;

KOTA TINGGI: The marine police have seized 460 Murai birds worth RM23,000 and detained a 30-year-old man who was transporting the birds to a neighbouring country on Thursday morning.

Marine Police Region 2 deputy commander Supt Shaari Arifin said that the suspect was arrested while carrying all of the birds in 46 baskets via a lorry at around 1230am here.

He said the suspect had failed to present the license to own the birds and the police had seized an engine that is believed to have been stolen.

The case is being investigated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 (Act 716).

The suspect as well as all of the seized items were sent to the Johor National Park Department.

Meanwhile in Sungai Rengit, 17 illegal immigrants from Indonesia were arrested in two separate raids for entering the country illegally through Teluk Rumania.

“Investigations showed that all of the suspects were travelling via boats and had failed to present their identification documents upon request,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

He added that all of the suspects were brought to the marine police Kota Tinggi office for further action.

Supt Shaari said that the case was being investigated under the Immigration Act 1959/63.

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Malaysia to fight ‘no palm oil’ label

The Star 30 Sep 16;

BERLIN: Malaysia is set to go all out to fight the “no palm oil” label issue in the European region, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“We are engaging with various countries (in the European Union),” he told Malaysian media at the end of his three-day official visit here yesterday.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, said Malaysia would also work with Indonesia to engage with the European Union member countries to address the “no palm oil” label issue.

He said Malaysia cannot allow EU countries to damage the prospects of Malaysia’s golden crop in the region.

Hence, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council will work on this, he added.

According to several reports, there are about 1,500 products with the “no palm oil” label in France, Belgium and Italy.

Such labelling can be categorised as a non-trade barrier and a move to deny market access for palm oil.

Najib had also discussed the same issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in his bilateral meeting on Tuesday.

He had explained to her that Malaysia subscribed to sustainable development of the palm oil industry and that there was no “slash and burn” policy.

He also invited German lawmakers to see this for themselves.

Najib said Merkel had assured Malaysia that Germany has no plans to impose any form of tax or tariff on palm oil.

They (Germany) will also not support any practice of the “no palm oil” label in Germany, said the Prime Minister. — Bernama

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Indonesia: Activists urge Indonesia to prioritize ecotourism

The Jakarta Post 29 Sep 16;

The government must prioritize eco-friendly tourism to engage local people in developing the tourism industry and at the same time preserve the nature of the biggest archipelagic country.

Indriani Setiawati, a communication and network development manager of the Indonesian Eco Tourism Network, said conventional tourism usually ended up being a threat to natural conservation, while environmentally-friendly tourism was seeing growing demand worldwide.

“Economic, environmental and social relations will affect each other in a positive way in ecotourism […]. Surveys show that many travelers prefer eco-friendly tourism,” she said in a seminar entitled “Eco-tourism: Globalizing Local Communities without Impacting the Environment” in Jakarta, Wednesday.

Indriani cited a survey of more than 700 American travelers conducted by travel website TripAdvisor in 2012, which found that 71 percent of the travelers plan to make more eco-friendly choices.

Indriani said Indonesia required a massive campaign on the business potential of ecotourism, as it usually took about two years to change the mindset of local people and to make them see the potential in their region to generate income from ecotourism.

She noted that illegal loggers in forest areas of Tangkahan, North Sumatra, had turned to conservation after realizing that chopping down trees would not secure them long-lasting income.

Therefore, they had become tour guides and were taking care of plants and wildlife, supported by the local administration that had given them access to inviting tourists to the Leuser National Park, she added. (wnd)

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Thailand Suspends Seahorse Trade Amid Conservation Concerns


JOHANNESBURG: Seahorses, traded by the millions annually as an ingredient in traditional medicine in parts of Asia, are getting a reprieve from Thailand, the world's biggest exporter of the animal.

A marine biologist who works closely with Thailand on seahorse conservation welcomed the government's decision to suspend seahorse trade because of concern about threats to its wild population.

"It's a way station to getting serious management in place," Amanda Vincent of The University of British Columbia said Thursday. Vincent is director of Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group whose partner is the Zoological Society of London.

The Thailand decision was announced at a meeting in South Africa of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. The U.N. meeting, which regulates trade in more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, ends Oct. 5.

Seahorses are mainly used in dried form for traditional medicine in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are also popular as curios, and there is a trade in live seahorses for display in home aquariums, including in Europe and North America.

CITES requires some controls on trade in the dozens of types of seahorse, designed to ensure the survival of the species.

But Thailand, responsible for three-quarters of the world's documented exports of seahorses, could not meet its obligations and stopped issuing export permits at the beginning of the year, according to Vincent.

Thailand's goal, she said, is to make seahorse exports "sustainable."

CITES has suspended the seahorse trade with three other big exporters — Vietnam, Senegal and Guinea — after they failed to meet requirements for the trade in the animal, Vincent said.

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Australia: Dugong deaths along Queensland coast spark calls for testing to prevent further losses

Stephanie Smail ABC 29 Sep 16;

Four dugongs have been found dead along the Queensland coast in the past week, sparking calls for testing to prevent further losses.

Since last Wednesday, carcasses have been found south of Mackay, at Hervey Bay and north and south of Townsville.

One drowned in a commercial fishing net.

Jim Higgs from the World Wildlife Fund said Queensland's environment department had not done testing to find out how the animals died.

"Most of the animals we've seen over the last week have been in a situation where an internal investigation would have been possible to see if the animal had ingested something that had caused a blockage or if it had drowned," he said.

"I just can't understand why there wasn't a priority to get these animals necropsied so we can learn from what's happened."
Studies show there are only about 600 dugongs left between Cooktown and Bundaberg.

"Evidence suggests the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef's population might only be 3 per cent of what it was in the 1960s," Mr Higgs said.

"So every one of these animals is critically important."

Mr Higgs said conditions that wiped out coral on the reef could be having a similar effect on seagrass beds, a vital food source for the vulnerable mammals.

He said testing the dead dugongs could shed some light and help protect other animals.

"If there was a big loss in seagrass we may see similar losses to what we saw after the 2011 flooding which led to massive numbers of dugongs dying along the Great Barrier Reef coast," he said.

A spokeswoman for the environment department confirmed necropsies were not performed on any of the animals, but said tissue samples were collected from two of the dugongs.

She said more detailed tests were only done if the animal died recently, could be safely retrieved and if it was likely the cause of death would be clear.

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Rare bird being driven to extinction by poaching for its 'red ivory' bill

Helmeted hornbills’ solid red beak sells for several times the price of elephant ivory due to soaring demand on the Chinese black market
Damian Carrington The Guardian 28 Sep 16;

A virtually unknown ivory poaching crisis is rapidly driving one of the world’s most spectacular birds to extinction, a global wildlife summit has heard.

The helmeted hornbill, found mainly in Indonesia, Borneo and Thailand, has a solid red beak which sells as a “red ivory” on the black market, for several times the price of elephant ivory. The huge birds have been caught for centuries for their tail feathers, prized by local communities, but since 2011 poaching has soared to feed Chinese demand for carving ivory, even though the trade is illegal, sending the hornbill into a death spiral.

The bird, which can have a wingspan of 2m, was officially listed as “near threatened” in 2012 but within three years had plunged three danger levels to “critically endangered”. Over 2,100 heads were seized in Indonesia and China in the two years up to August 2014, according to the Species Survival Network, and some estimates suggest 6,000 a year are killed.

The government of Indonesia set out the hornbill’s plight on Tuesday in front of the 182 nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cites had already given its highest level protection to the hornbill in 1975 – all trade is illegal. But Indonesia demanded more international action to break the crime syndicates that smuggle the beak ivory, known as casques.

“The high price reached by the casques motivates hunters to kill all the hornbills they cross, including juvenile birds,” said the Cites delegate from Indonesia, where police have arrested and prosecuted 15 hornbill traffickers since 2015. “The illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn has been well documented, however, the illegal trade in casques has been little known. If this highly profitable illegal trade is not curbed, the existence of this majestic species is in danger and is likely to lead to extinction.”

“It is in huge trouble,” said Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society. “They have this fabulous call, that ends in cackling laughter, which you can hear from a mile away. But they are incredibly easy to hunt because of that call: it must be the most spectacular bird call on the planet.”

The Cites nations agreed urgent action was needed and will decide on its precise form in the coming days. “Indonesia is calling on other countries to take hornbill ivory as seriously as the other ivory,” Bennett said. The Cites action is a “big red flag”, she said, which will be very valuable in pressuring governments, including China, to act.

Bennett said the slow-breeding birds were particularly vulnerable to poaching. They mate for life, and when ready to lay their one or two eggs per year, the male uses mud to seal the female into a protective hole in a tree. The male then feeds the female and chicks through a slit, meaning if the male is shot, the whole family starves. The bird’s casque is used to hammer out insects from rotting wood, or to fight.

The hornbill has also been harmed by the loss of much of its habitat to palm oil plantations. “It has not been helped by the vast clearances of lowland forest in Borneo and Sumatra,” said Bennett.

“Only global cooperation can stop the illegal trade in hornbill ivory before it is too late,” said the Cites delegate from the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society. “I have witnessed the rampant illegal poaching in the rainforest.”

On Monday, the Guardian exposed the central role of international organised crime groups in wildlife trafficking in Asia and linked the illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels. The investigation also revealed the crime family at the centre of Asia’s animal trafficking network.

Responding to the investigation, Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s chief advisor on wildlife, said: “This highlights the necessity to tackle the organised criminal networks that are so entrenched in wildlife trafficking, which is estimated to be worth over £12bn a year. Corruption often goes hand in hand with these large-scale criminal operations and for the first time ever corruption will be discussed this week at Cites.”

Iris Ho, of Humane Society International, said: “No governments should give cover to these exposed wildlife traffickers who have profited, making tens of millions of dollars from the slaughter of elephants, lions, pangolins and rhinos.

“We urge the Cites [nations] to give these animals the highest level of protection possible and ensure that this nexus of Africa-Asia wildlife traffickers are swiftly brought to justice.”

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New data shows 'staggering' extent of great ape trade

Matt McGrath BBC 30 Sep 16;

A new database suggests say there has been a dramatic under-reporting of the live, illegal trade in great apes.

Around 1,800 orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas were seized in 23 different countries since 2005, the figures show.

Since 90% of the cases were within national borders they didn't appear in major data records, which only contain international seizures.

The new database has been published at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg.

Records incomplete

Comprehensive data on the illicit trade in great apes is rare.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) only keeps records of international seizures, which experts in the field have long believed was giving a misleading impression.

The new Apes Seizures Database paints a more detailed picture, compiling figures for any seizure of a great ape in an unlawful situation dating back to 2005.

"It's definitely a staggering number, it's larger than we expected," said Doug Cress from the Great Ape Survival Partnership, who have put together the new database.

"We're finding that it's really averaging about two seizures a week around the world. That may seem small but the usual ratio for a chimpanzee is that to get one alive you've had to kill five or 10, for gorillas it's like four to one.

"That extrapolates quickly to a lot of dead in the wild."

Orang-utans were by far the most commonly captured animals, accounting for 67% of seizures by the authorities.

It's believed that habitat destruction in Borneo and Sumatra has seen large numbers flushed out of the forests.

The conversion of their natural homes into palm oil plantations or for pulp and paper has made the orangutans easy prey for those who want to trade them illegally.

Chimpanzees represented about a quarter of all seizures while gorillas represented six percent and bonobos around 3%.

"This is a live trade, mostly infants that have to be moved quickly," said Doug Cress.

"They are trafficked on fast routes - that usually means hand luggage, the overhead bin in your airplane."

Cash rewards

While Indonesia and Malaysia are high on the list of countries with seizures thanks to the orangutans, West Africa also emerges as a hub, specifically countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cameroon.

What's feeding the trade is money - a chimpanzee in Asia can sell for between $25-30,000. A gorilla can command up to $45,000.

As well as the animal welfare worries, and the impact on wild populations, there are also concerns about the potential to spread disease. HIV is believed to have originated in apes before being transmitted to humans.

Doug Cress believes that the new method of collecting and monitoring the data will help the fight against the live trafficking of these animals.

"Most databases have up to three years for countries to file information, but by then the trail is cold.

"We are talking about live time with this new database, when we see trends we will inform Interpol and Cites immediately."

The Apes Seizures Database has been built by the GRASP Partnership, in conjunction with the UN Environment's World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Furniture that destroys forests: crackdown on 'rampant' trade in rosewood

Cites summit moves to protect the world’s most trafficked wild product by placing all 300 species of the tree under trade restrictions
Damian Carrington The Guardian 29 Sep 16;

Governments have launched a crackdown on the rampant billion-dollar trade in rosewood timber that is plundering forests across the planet to feed a booming luxury furniture market in China.

The Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) summit on Thursday placed all 300 species of rosewood under trade restrictions, meaning criminals can no longer pass off illegally logged species as legitimate.

Rosewood is the world’s most trafficked wild product, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, accounting for a third of all seizures by value, more than elephant ivory, pangolins, rhino horn, lions and tigers put together.

With a beautiful deep red glow, it is the traditional wood used for elite, classic-style “hongmu” furniture in China: one huge carved bed was on sale recently for $1m. But due to explosive demand from China’s fast-growing middle class, the rosewood trade has soared since 2005, multiplying 65 times in value and now worth $2.2bn a year.

As a result, the forests of south-east Asia have been rapidly emptying, peaking in 2014. Traffickers are now targeting more than 80 other countries across the tropics where rosewoods grow, particularly in west Africa but also central America. China’s rosewood imports from Africa soared sevenfold between 2010 and 2014, according to a report from Forest Trends, with $216m of west African rosewood imported in the first half of 2016 alone.

Illegal gangs move swiftly from country to country, felling all the trees they can find and creating devastating boom-and-bust cycles, said the report. “When trees become scarce in one place, or authorities strengthen controls, the shady networks quickly move to another country and the deadly cycle of corruption, violence and forest destruction starts anew,” said a statement from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a Cites participant.

China imported 2m cubic metres of logs and wood in 2014, according to the EIA. This is equivalent to millions of rosewood trees as only the dark, dense heartwood is used: 70-80% of the tree is often wasted.

The devastated forests left behind also no longer provide the charcoal and traditional medicines used by indigenous communities. “It is at the heart of our rural communities,” said Niger’s Cites delegate. “The demand from Asia threatens directly threatens their livelihoods.”

Lisa Handy, at the EIA, said: “We are really thrilled [with the new Cites protection]. It’s really in the nick of time to save them from extinction. The trade has exploded exponentially in the last decade. Now it really comes down to enforcement.”

The importance of protecting the entire Dalbergia genus of rosewood is that criminals can no longer pass off illegal rosewood as one of the previously unprotected species. “Officials have great difficulty in distinguishing between species,” said Guatemala’s delegate to Cites. “It is very difficult for people who are not experts, and even sometimes for the experts themselves.”

“This [summit] will be remembered for rosewood and pangolin protection,” said Brazil’s delegate, who said there would have been nothing left within three years without action.

The Cites summit also applied new protection to an African rosewood from another genus, known as Kosso, which grows in the dry forests of west Africa. It was barely exported in 2009 but exploitation has since soared and it is now is now the main rosewood timber imported by China. “The forests have been emptied,” said Benin’s delegate to Cites.

Some rosewood species can still be logged under the new rules, but will require permits that should only be granted if it is deemed sustainable. The rules could be revisited in the final Cites session next week, but this is unlikely. Rosewood is also used to make some musical instruments, such as guitars, but the new rules will not prevent musicians travelling with their instruments.

The new protections enter into force in 90 days, but need action by individual nations to have an impact. In 2013, Cites gave similar protection to every rosewood species in Madagascar, where rampant logging was taking place.

However, the EIA says the Madagascan government has failed to carry out its enforcement commitments and, in May 2016, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called on Madagascar to end corruption and “fight the illegal trafficking of natural treasures”.

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Shoppers in England now far more likely to use their own bags

Study finds a rise in the number of people carrying their own bags since the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags nearly a year ago
Adam Vaughan The Guardian 29 Sep 16;

Shoppers in England have become much more likely to take their own bags to the high street since the introduction of a plastic bag charge nearly a year ago, a study has found.

More than nine in 10 people now often or always carry their own bags, up from seven in 10 before the 5p charge came into effect, and the public became much more supportive after it started. The number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and big retailers in England has fallen by 85%.

The authors of the Cardiff University study said that the charge’s success suggested a charge on takeway coffee cups, an idea backed by campaigner and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and former environment minister George Eustice, could be successfully brought in too.

Support for the England bag charge went from five in 10 people to six in 10 after the 5p fee came into effect, and the number of shoppers sceptical that the charge would go to charity dropped significantly after its introduction. The charge had raised £29m for good causes by July.

“One thing that stood out to me was the effects were universal, there weren’t age, gender or income effects,” said lead author Prof Wouter Poortinga. “Everyone changed their behaviour and everyone increased their support for the charge. I think that is important.”

The research also revealed that the charge gave people in England an increased environmental awareness, and greater willingness to accept other waste policies too, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles.

But Poortinga conceded that while the bag scheme’s success showed a coffee cup charge could work, that shift would likely be trickier. “It’s not exactly the same. It’s easier to adapt to a bag charge by bringing your own bag than by bringing your own cup. You have to find ways around the hassle factor,” he said.

The government has ruled out a coffee cup “tax”, though pressure for an end to the throwaway culture continued on Thursday with the launch of a ‘cupifesto’ by 140 environmental and social NGOs who said takeaway cups harm forests.

While single-use bag use has plummeted in England – as in Wales and Scotland who brought in charges earlier – the study found some evidence that people were building up bag for life mountains at home.

“We asked people to estimate how many bags for life they have at home: in England it went from 6.5 to nine [after the charge]. In Wales it’s around 11. People are buying more bags for life than they really need. It seems it is accumulating a little bit,” said Poortinga.

The study suggests the government should do away with the exemptions in the England scheme, which excludes small retailers. The study’s survey found a majority of participants backed a blanket charge across England, Scotland and Wales, which Poortinga said would be much more straightforward.

The research involved a nationally representative survey with Ipsos Mori of people before, just after and six months after the England charge, as well as diaries and interviews, and observations of shoppers at four supermarkets.

Respondents in their diaries said they found the scheme easy to adapt to, despite predictions of “chaos” from some newspapers on its introduction.

“It [the bag charge] makes people think about what they’re doing, and stops them from being lazy. It makes people think ahead and plan, and not just take things for granted,” wrote one woman in England shortly after the charge. Another said: “I really think that along with carrier bags, the issue of other plastic going to waste should be looked at.”

A spokesman for the environment department said: “These latest figures show that this great progress is the result of a real change in our behaviour - many more of us now stop, think and take a bag with us before heading out to the shops.”

Efforts to cut plastic waste received another boost on Wednesday, when Lidl said it would remove single-use plastic bags from all its stores across England, Scotland and Wales by the start of July next year. The supermarket said it was making the move because of its commitment to “reduce unnecessary plastic waste” and estimated the change would save 63m bags annually.

Six billion plastic bags can’t be wrong – so what do we tax next?
In the first six months of the 5p charge in England, 6bn fewer bags were handed out. Watch out coffee cups and plastic bottles
Patrick Barkham The Guardian 2 Oct 16;

Once, my family’s kitchen cupboard would have contained dozens of plastic bags. But today – a year after the introduction of England’s 5p plastic bag charge – I count just six (three secondhand ones, given to us by other people, one corner-shop bag and two small bags supplied with meat and fish).

England’s plastic bag charge was a long time coming – long after Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – and critics predicted its exemptions for small stores and paper bags would diminish its effectiveness. A year ago, Andy Cummins, campaigns director of Surfers Against Sewage, predicted that England’s charge would reduce use of plastic bags, but not as effectively as in Scotland, Wales (down 78%) and Northern Ireland (down 81%).

In fact, in the first six months of the charge, the number of single-use plastic bags handed out by the seven biggest supermarkets fell by more than 85% from 7.6bn a year in 2014 to 600m. In that period, the levy raised more than £29m for charities and community groups. A study by Cardiff University found that more than nine out of 10 people often or always carry their own bags, up from seven out of 10 before the 5p charge came into effect.

Six billion fewer plastic bags in six months: Cummins is happy to be proved half-wrong. “It’s a fantastic success,” he says. “The vast majority have adapted their behaviour without a check in their stride. There will be a phenomenal net benefit for the environment from 6bn fewer bags.”

The Marine Conservation Society undertook its annual beach clean in September. Laura Foster, head of pollution, says that volunteers aren’t seeing plastic bags on the beach any more. “There is strong anecdotal evidence to suggest a decline in plastic bags in our marine environment,” she says.

Single-use plastic bags may not be being discarded in their previous numbers, but there are reservations about their replacements. Bags for life and, in particular, cotton bags require much more energy – and carbon emissions – to produce. A study by the Environment Agency found a “resource expenditure” of just 2kg of carbon per plastic bag: a paper bag would need to be used seven times to achieve the same per-use expenditure; a cotton bag would need to be used 327 times.

Supreme Creations, which claims to be the world’s largest ethical packaging company, reports a 20% increase in sales of its reusable carrier bags since the levy was introduced in England. So, are we now creating reusable bag mountains? My family’s reusable bag stash currently stands at 15, but these include a cotton bag from the Devon town of Modbury, which I picked up in 2007 when I wrote about it being the first place in Europe to ban plastic bags. That has definitely had more than 300 uses, and so have our three large Ikea bags, which I take to the supermarket each week.

Surfers Against Sewage, Keep Britain Tidy and the Marine Conservation Society all say that there are no problems with reusable bags being littered on land or sea. “Because people pay for them, they value them and there is no tossing them away,” says Foster. What about the free ones? “Even if you get them for free, you hoard them,” says Cummins. “You need every bag you can get if your shopping is anything like mine.”

For analysts such as David Powell of the New Economics Foundation, the unequivocal success of the plastic bag charge shows that the government shouldn’t be afraid of using financial “nudges” in new environmental regulations. Who would imagine that a 5p charge changes human behaviour so decisively?

“By far the most interesting thing about the plastic bag charge is just how successful an incredibly small charge can be,” says Powell. “Introduce the right charge in the right way and people respond to it, particularly if there’s such an obvious environmental problem. The government will have to conclude, how can we use this principle for other things?”

The Cardiff University survey also reveals that the charge has made people in England more willing to accept regulations to reduce plastic waste, such as a 5p charge on plastic bottles. Plastic bags may have been litter’s poster child, but they amounted to just 2% of beach rubbish. Powell suggests a charge on coffee cups is an obvious next step. “There are massive piles of unrecycled coffee cups everywhere. It’s an obvious problem that people are keen to do something about.”

While the plastic-bag charge was about changing consumer behaviour, announcing a charge on coffee cups to apply at a future date would give the industry an incentive to innovate and find alternatives, rather like the sugar tax, which will apply from 2017.

Both Keep Britain Tidy and Surfers Against Sewage would like to see the government close the loopholes in England’s current plastic bag charge so that paper bags incur a charge, too, and small shops are no longer exempt (the Association of Convenience Stores wanted to be included in the charging system from the outset). However, a Defra spokesperson says there are currently no plans to extend the regulations.

“We walk into meetings with Defra where the position is: ‘The government doesn’t want new regulations.’ Unfortunately, that’s the default position,” says Cummins. He thinks the next example of a win-win regulation that would benefit consumers, industry and the environment is a deposit-return system for drinks bottles. Such systems are used in dozens of European countries from Germany to Croatia, and in Australian and American states, too.

Reverse vending machines that give people, say, 20p for their plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans deliver recycling rates of up to 90%, provide high-grade recyclable materials for industry, and save councils’ doorstep recycling and rubbish bin costs, argues Cummins. If placed on shop floors, they also encourage footfall; it’s not hard to imagine kids collecting bottles and quickly spending their earnings in the shops.

“We all know that litter breeds litter,” says Cummins. “If you can take these really visible litter items out of the environment with a successful deposit-return system, it will have a knock-on effect and everyone will treat their environment better.”

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