UK Politics

Charge for 'idiotic' plastic bags in England says Conservative MP

The government is being urged to follow the example of Wales and Ireland and charge for the use of plastic bags.

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith wants ministers to bring forward legislation to curb what he described as the most "idiotic" form of non-recyclable waste.

A local levy was a "small lever" that could make a big difference, he said in a parliamentary debate on the issue.

But Tory colleague Mark Pawsey said "voluntary" efforts to cut consumption would be much more effective.

Shoppers in Wales have been paying 5p per carrier bag since charges were introduced in October.

'Wasteful country'

Mr Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park and long-standing environmental campaigner, told MPs that the move had proved "wildly popular" and had resulted in a huge fall in usage.

Although companies such as M&S, Ikea and Lidl had introduced charges for single-use plastic bags, Mr Goldsmith said overall usage was still rising and there was "growing pressure" for ministers to act.

"We are an incredibly wasteful country," he said. "Of all the waste we generate, the plastic bag is surely the most idiotic."

Of the three possible solutions to the problem, the MP said an outright ban on plastic bags was "too crude" while there was "no appetite" for a general tax that was likely to be seen as a "green stealth tax".

"The alternative is a levy, applied in the shops - a light touch - with the funds distributed to local causes," he argued. "There are any number of ways the money could be spent."

Consumer behaviour

But Mr Pawsey, MP for Rugby, said plastic bags accounted for less than 1% of all household waste and the levy being proposed was unlikely to have a "significant impact" on overall waste levels.

He added: "If we reduce the use of plastic carrier bags, we simply encourage people to buy plastic bags from other sources to do the job that carrier bags are currently fulfilling."

For the government, environment minister David Heath said officials were "monitoring" the impact of the charges in Wales and hoped to make an "early evaluation" of the evidence.

He confirmed that a charge could be introduced in England, if it was deemed to be "efficacious", without having to introduce new legislation, although any such move would have to be subject to a consultation.

"This is something where we all have an opportunity to change our behaviour to make sure fewer bags end up in landfill."

Northern Ireland plans to introduce a bag charge from April while the Scottish government is currently consulting on the issue. The Republic of Ireland has had a charge since 2002.

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