From this morning, a 5p charge comes in for single-use carrier bags. This welcome move will encourage people to reuse bags saving energy resources. It will reduce plastic bag litter on land and in our oceans.
The carrier bag charge is not a government tax. The money raised is expected to go to charity (but stores could legally keep it).
Unfortunately, as is common with almost anything that comes out of Whitehall, the charge is not being introduced a straightforward way. Stores employing less than 250 employees are exempt from the charge, though many will introduce it voluntarily. It would have been much simpler to introduce the charge for all stores. And it would have been better if all bags, regardless of whether they are paper or plastic are charged.
It is not clear why introduction of the charge has taken so long. Most stores have wanted it. Ireland introduced its charge in 2002, Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. But again, it is characteristic of some parts of Whitehall that if something can be slowly, it will be.
Critics of the charging scheme say that it will lead to a greater use of black plastic bags. They cite Ireland as an example. In 2004, the British Retail Consortium said the charge had led to a 1000% increase in bin liners and a rise in shoplifting. There was indeed an increase in bin liners and a move towards heavier duty carrier bags. But I have never seen evidence for a ten-fold increase in bin liners. In any event, this was 2002 when Ireland sent most of its household waste to landfill. Now in the UK,
The BRC has recently muted its criticism, perhaps because most of the big retailers it represents have welcomed the charge and some have already introduced bag charges. It is now calling for charges to be introduced to smaller stores; something the Association of Convenience Stores says will be welcome.
For me, limiting the use of plastic bags is just one-step in helping clean up our environment.
This is what the Sussex Wildlife Trust says on the impact of carrier bags:
Plastic pollution is a global issue and it needs to be tackled at source. Around the coast our beaches are cleaned by wonderful volunteers on countless beach cleans, but all too often their efforts are undone when the next high tide brings in more litter. Plastic chokes and traps animals and some, like turtles, birds and fish mistake them for food and all too often die of starvation caused by a digestive system full of plastic. Plastic, never completely decomposes, it only breaks down into smaller and smaller particles.
Reducing the use of plastic carrier bags in England is only a small step towards solving this global problem, but if we don’t take a lot of small steps, we won’t ever clean up the world.
Of course, in an environmentally conscious town like Ludlow, many people have used sisal, cotton and other alternatives to single use carrier bags for a long time. Many of us reuse plastic bags as many times as we can (which happens to be the most energy efficient approach). Other towns have declared themselves plastic-bag free town.
There is no single big thing we can do to reduce our impact on the environment. We need a lot of small steps. The introduction of the carrier bag charge today, no matter how imperfect the scheme is, means we have made one step towards a cleaner, greener planet.
What do you think? Is the introduction of a carrier bag charge a good move?