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The carrier bag debate

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:27 UK time, Monday, 7 November 2011

One month into the 5p carrier bag charge we’ve been inundated with your emails and phone calls.

And so X-Ray has put your queries to the Environment Minister, John Griffiths to find out how well it’s working.

Small Bags

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.”

Recycled Bags

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.

Paper Bags

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?”

John Griffiths Environment Minister

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Williams butchers in risca , asks the customer to put the 5p into there saint davids charity box , but how much of the 5p are the big supermarkets giving !!

  • Comment number 2.

    What an infuriating interview with the Assembly minister, John Griffiths. Your reporter should have pinned him down. He brushed aside the question on the charging for paper bags. It was also obvious that there is enormous scope for retailers 'forgetting' to forward the charges. In any case I do not believe it right that someone else should choose the charities for which my donation is used. The entire bag-charging exercise typifies the Welsh Assembly's sense of priorities.

  • Comment number 3.

    Sainsburys in Wales still give green nectar points for using your own bags - so I do not understand Tesco's logic behind not giving them.
    Surely the supermarkets who give green points should be rewarding us more as we would be using a lot less bags because we now have to pay for them!

  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst I agree with supermarkets having to charge for carrier bags I really think the government has gone too far saying ALL carrier bags have to be paid for. I recently bought some baby clothes in a High Street store and had to pay for a bag. OK so 5p is not much but if you have spent £30 why should you have to pay more for a bag. I always take my bags to the supermarket but don't want to put new clothing items in a bag which last week had my greengrocery in. Surely this whole issue needs looking at again. In France this summer there were no carrier bags in supermarkets. Other shops provided the carrier bags free.

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't believe how poor Mr. John Griffiths was on the show, his interview was completely and utter rubbish! He totally avoided any answers to any questions to which he was asked? Or maybe a proper Welsh Minister answers? I don't think so!! It seemed that Mr. Griffiths had no idea in the questions posed to him, in relation to paper bags, what the funds raised in relation to carrier bags sold at five pence each, surely these questions should have been asked before the implementation of this rule being put into place? What a really poor idea in trying to sort out an issue of Plastic carrier bags being dumped and not recycled. I can understand theirs an issue with the plastic bags being dumped to land fill, but surely paper bags are totally different? If this is one of the Welsh Assembly's ways of trying to sort out a minor issue concerning the environment, then I think, they should all stand down from their jobs! Paper bags should be the answer in a replacement for shopping bags, with the rest of the U.K. still having carrier bags issued at shops, and then the amount of carry bags issued in Wales is an extremely small pimple on a big abyss!

  • Comment number 6.

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