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Michael Williams: Readers' editor

Bags of news – and greener at the checkout

He may have been the "Napoleon of dullards" delivering a Budget "so boring he even stupefied himself", as one commentator put it, but the Chancellor had some Independent readers excitedly popping off emails last week.

"Now that the Government is to outlaw plastic bags, isn't it time for newspapers like you to stop wrapping your sections in polythene? As a paper that claims to be eco-friendly, 'The Independent' isn't setting a very good example, is it?" emails Anne Nichols from Farnborough. "How about a tax on the plastic wrappers around newspapers?" suggests Duncan Clark from Knutsford.

Can't think that would be popular with readers, Mr Clark. But we've all seen the poignant pictures of rare turtles choking on polythene waste. Plastic bags are the visible sign of our impotence as individuals to do much about the environment, and Mr Darling is reflecting a clear national will to get rid of them.

Even so, the case against them is not entirely proven. A bag tax in Ireland actually led to five times more plastic being used overall, since people now demand heavier "bags for life". A bigger charge is that the bags ban is tinkering at the edges. Plastic wrapping comprises only about 3 per cent of domestic waste in the UK and some environmentalists believe getting fixated on it encourages people to take their eye off the bigger issues.

But why do we need our newspapers to be swathed in plastic? The 'Independent' titles are not unique in this. Even the 'Daily Mail', which campaigned for the bags ban, wraps itself in plastic at weekends. Our circulation manager tells me that our weekend sales would fall substantially if we had manually to insert all the sections, due to delays in getting papers to the newsagent. And the wrapping stops the bits falling out – one of the biggest sources of reader complaints.

There's some good news on the way, though. Although the plastic currently used is recyclable through council and supermarket schemes, The Independent is trialling a wrapper made from cellulose, which is compostable and biodegradable.

t Few lessons seem to have been learnt from the thoughtless coverage of the recent cluster of suicides in Bridgend. Now we have another high-profile death – that of Michael Todd, the Greater Manchester police chief. As there is overwhelming clinical evidence that people will "copy" suicides at popular spots like Snowdon, I cannot see why we continue to put the lives of the vulnerable on the line.

Corrections and clarifications

In "Hero or Villain" (2 March), we published an illustration of Saffron Aldridge, rather than of Saffron Burrows. This was due to an agency error. Our apologies to both for not spotting the error.

Message Board: What happened to the white working class?

Last week's coverage of working-class culture, education, housing and jobs in contemporary Britain prompted views from all sides:


As our industry has gone down the plughole, so has the working class disappeared. There are still plenty of poor people. It's not a class-ridden country any more: it's like the US, divided by filthy lucre.


Er, wasn't that always the case? What we now have in Britain is an oligarch class, managerial/administrative class, workers and an underclass who are unemployable.


The working class has been left battered and demoralised and brutalised by the social and economic policies adopted by every government since 1979. Thatcherism did it, end of story.


Thatcherist economics provided the tools, multiculturalism the ideology. Urban redevelopment and the destruction of community cohesion left young white working classes confused and demoralised.

James, Bath

Despite all the accusations the author levels at our destructive and incompetent lefty elite, he says he's still going to vote for them. How far is it possible for the liberals' misguided tribal loyalty to stretch?


Why the fixation with using traditional, outdated labels? People living on benefits – how can they be working class when they don't work? The debate needs to go beyond old-fashioned stereotypes.


Are all liberals, like Tim Lott, aware of the degrading treatment meted out to those who were once the 'boiler house' of our society?

J Hayward

Factories, where ancestors toiled respectably in engineering and manufacturing, have been supplanted by soulless retail parks, which pay out the minimum hourly rate. UK working class RIP.

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