The carrier bag debate
And so X-Ray has put your queries to the Environment Minister, John Griffiths to find out how well it’s working.
Caroline Camplin from Maesycymmer wanted to know whether we should be charged for the small unbranded plastic bags, often given out at supermarket check outs, “I resent the fact that you are expected to put pre-packaged meat into your bags alongside things such as fruit and veg.”
According to our research, there should be no charge for a small plastic bag placed around packages of meat to avoid contamination.
And we've checked with the four major supermarkets to see what they’re doing. Tesco, Asda and Morrisons say their staff should still be giving out these smaller plastic bags for free for items such as meat but Sainsbury's no longer do.
And what was Mr Griffiths answer? He told us, “Well I think it takes time for any change to bed in. There was a lot of concern that there might be confusion around the imposition of the charge but actually experience has been very positive indeed.
“There will always be questions about the detail. We do take account of issues like food hygiene and all of that was considered.”
Eleanor Webber runs a twice weekly car boot sale in Valley on Anglesey giving out send hand carrier bags. She wanted to ask, “Do we need to charge for carrier bags? When we're selling clothes for 5 pence and selling books for 50 pence each?”
Our research shows carrier bags will only ever be charged for once. So if you're handing out old bags then you don't need to worry. That counts for car boot sales as well as charity shops! But if the bags are new ones, then you will need to start charging.
John Willis from Llanelli wanted to know why we’re being charged for paper bags as well as plastic ones, “Why when we go to restaurants like Burger King and McDonald's we're being charged 5p for a paper carrier bag? I thought the new law was bought in for plastic only?”
Petra Bode from Caerleon agreed with him, “If the reason the Welsh Assembly has bought in the charge on carrier bags is that of environmental issues, why did they not bring in paper bags years ago just like Dublin did?”
Our reporter Rachel Treadaway-Williams put their questions to the Minister.
Mr Griffiths replied, “Well the production process for paper bags is equally, if not more environmentally damaging than that involved with plastic bags.
“But the key message is about behavioural change, and we need a consistent message; and that consistent message is take your own bags with you to re-use because of the environmental benefit - and actually that avoids litter from both plastic bags and paper bags.”
Green Clubcard points
One aspect of the carrier bag charge has angered many of you – Tesco’s decision to stop giving out Green Clubcard point in Wales.
Glyn Williams from Flintshire wrote in wanting to know if the promise of green points printed on his reusable bag bought from Tesco forms the basis of a contract? And Nina Ward from Penarth says she thinks Tesco deserved a good slap, “Tesco one, Welsh Customers – nil” was her reading of the situation.
Tesco wouldn’t tell us how many Green Clubcard points they give away but when we had a look on their website we found this statement, “Tesco customers in Wales have saved over 500 million bags in the last five years.”
So if we assume that Welsh customers have saved 100 million bags per year, in theory that could be 100 million Green Clubcard points that Tesco won't be giving out anymore. At a penny a point that could save them £1 million!
Marketing expert Paul Buckley from Cardiff Metropolitan University gave us his point of view, “They've just gone for a saving thinking the customer might not even notice. I suppose you could say ‘every little helps’, but Tesco a little bit more than the customers.”
Tesco told us they see Green Clubcard points as an incentive not a loyalty reward and with the new regulations - the incentive to reuse bags is now to avoid paying for new ones. They don't think this means that Welsh customers are missing out.
Now what about the charity aspect – where is all our money going?
At the moment it's not a legal requirement for shops to give the 5p to charity. Many of the larger chains have decided to hand it over though. Tesco is giving to the RSPB, John Lewis to Keep Wales Tidy and Morrison’s to Save the Children.
But we’ve found smaller shop owners are struggling to understand what they should be doing.
In one Cardiff street over half of the 15 shops we asked didn't know what they should be doing with the 5ps they collected.
And so we put this to the Minister. He told X-Ray, “I don't think it really matters how they charge as long as they do charge - so there’s no one single right way.
“If they have more than 10 employees they are required to record the amount of money that they received from the plastic bag charge and indeed account for the use of that money.
“We're very keen to understand issues as they arise and work through them. We don't want to see people making these payments; we want to see people helping the environment and re-using their bags.”
You can find out even more about the carrier bag charge and the different rules and exemptions here.