ONE of the most useful inventions in modern times, in my view, is the plastic carrier bag.

It is so versatile. The obvious use, for which it was created of course, is to carry home the shopping from the supermarket but there is so much more it can do.

Just as examples, they make great liners for waste paper baskets in the home, and they are ideal for taking to car boot sales and cramming in all those bargains on offer.

Want something for wrapping delicate items before storing them away? Use a plastic bag.

Need to dispose of the gunge from clearing out a drain? Use a plastic bag.

The list goes on and on.

So I was struck with horror when I learned this week that the government could impose a complete ban on plastic bags.

That’s the suggestion from the recycling minister Lord Henley who is “not happy” that last year the use of carrier bags rose by five per cent after a fall of 40 per cent between 2006 and 2009.

Quite why there was this decline to under 6.5 billion bags being used I am not sure, but the tide has definitely turned and a worried Lord Henley says he will consider “additional measures” if there is no improvement (ie another drop in numbers).

An outright ban was “an option that one could look at”, he said ominously.

Also not too keen on bags are the powers-that-be in Wales who at the beginning of October are introducing a compulsory 5p charge for single-use bags. Northern Ireland may follow suit.

Further afield, Rwanda brought in a ban on bags in 2005 which has lead to it “being widely described as the cleanest country in the whole of Africa”.

That’s all very well, but it does not convince me of the worth of finding alternatives. After all, carrier bags can be used multiple times before they wear out.

Bin bags, on the other hand, have limited use. I also learned with some astonishment this week that we get through 5.4 billion refuse bags a year – that’s an average of four per household every week – at a total cost of �546 million, just to throw away our rubbish.

Some 20 per cent of the stuff which goes to landfill is food waste and this can be heavily reduced by the use of food waste disposers which could save us….Oh, I’ve just realised, this press release has been issued on behalf of a food waste disposer manufacturer trying to flog its product. Good try, chaps, you almost got me hopping onto the environment bandwagon.

As a footnote to my mention in last week’s column of the intrepid motorist who drove to the top of Mount Snowdon in his 4x4 only to get stuck as he started back down, what happened to it then is certainly a sign of the times.

Here was a large vehicle marooned 400 metres from the summit, which could not be moved for several days because of bad weather. But the conditions did not stop a would-be thief from getting there and breaking in.