Worldwide around 1 million plastic bags are used every minute. Although more and more plastic bags are being re-used for shopping or as garbage bin, it still has an enormous impact on environment. In 2008 it was even the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts.
Having lived in 4 different countries over the last 6 years, I noticed the different approaches to reduce the use of (new) plastic bags by shops. The biggest difference exists between The Netherlands and Japan. The Netherlands, my home country, has already for years a system where you have to pay for a plastic bag. It is a bit service unfriendly but it has resulted in a massive decrease in the demand for bags. Guess there is a little truth in the international "opinion" that the Dutch are penny-pinching... In Japan, you get unlimited free plastic bags, and they put the (wrapped in plastic) beef in an extra plastic bag before putting it in a plastic bag. And then they will add some dry ice to keep it cool. I suppose service and customer satisfaction still rule over environment in Japan.
The Cold Storage supermarket in Malaysia introduced a mind-boggling system. You can get as many (free) plastic bags as you like but only on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. So on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday you have to bring your own, as they won't even sell bags on those days. A very confusing system, especially for not very organised people like myself.
I like British approach in this. You will get your (free) plastic bag if you haven't brought any of your own. But if you use your own bags, you get a discount (or points which you can use to shop). This makes you feel you earn by doing the right thing. It feels much better than the financial 'punishment' in the Dutch system. The UK system would also go well in Japan as it keeps customers happy by giving them discount, very important in a country where the point card (pronounced 'pointo cardo') is an essential part of daily life!
The UK-system does bring it all together: get rewarded for doing the right thing! Feel free to suggest this option to your local shopkeeper!
Now we should check if re-using cigaret butts would be possible as well. Only the idea will make people want to quit!