Plastic bag charge to be introduced in England


Ed Davey: "Try to avoid this charge, we want you to re-use your plastic bags"

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A 5p charge for plastic bags in England is to be introduced by the government in a bid to discourage their use.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is to unveil the plans at the Liberal Democrat party conference this weekend.

Ministers are said to be concerned at the environmental impact of the bags, particularly on waterborne animals.

The charge, which will only apply to supermarkets and larger stores, will begin after the 2015 election, with the proceeds going to charities.

A similar charge applying to the single-use carrier bags made from both plastic and paper is already in effect in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan, this week announced he was not going ahead with plans to raise the levy to 10p per bag, because the present arrangements were proving successful.

He said data from major supermarkets showed there had been an 80% reduction in plastic bag use since the levy was brought in.

Retailers in Scotland will start charging for bags in October 2014.

According to Liberal Democrat sources, the charge in Wales, which began in 2011, has seen the use of plastic bags drop by roughly 75%.

Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said his party had faced opposition to the scheme from the Conservatives.

He said the charge would only raise "pretty small amounts" for charity, as its intention was to get people to reduce the amount they use.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: "It is a huge environmental step forward.

'Tough times'

"We are very clear that none of this money will come to government, we are not trying to tax people, we are trying to change people's behaviour, encourage much more environmentally-friendly behaviour."

Start Quote

This small step will do little to tackle the nation's huge waste mountain ”

End Quote Craig Bennett Friends of the Earth

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said there was enthusiasm for the plans among major retailers but there had been opposition from government colleagues.

Speaking on a visit to Cathkin Marsh nature reserve, near Glasgow, he said that plastic bags were often used for just a few minutes but "take 1,000 years to degrade".

He said: "That's not just bad for the environment, they are a terrible eyesore on our beautiful countryside. They cause a lot of suffering for animals, particularly marine wildlife."

Mr Clegg said he hoped any money raised by the levy would be donated to environmental charities.

He added: "Of course there are debates in government on something like this, this is a big change. But it's one that I was very keen to do and I think we will now do it - not overnight, it will happen by the end of 2015.

"But I think very quickly, just as in the way people are accepting it in Wales where there has been an up to 80% drop in the use of plastic bags, people will get used to it and support it."

Andy Walker from the campaign group, Keep Britain Tidy, said that free plastic bags came with a "cost to the environment".

"Our supporters up and down the country end up cleaning bags from water courses, from beaches, from the High Street... so we believe it'll reduce the incidence of bags there," he said.

"But it will also influence behaviour change - people will start to take reusable bags with them to the supermarket and that will actually make a big difference to the environment."

But Matthew Sinclair, from the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the charge was an unnecessary measure that would have little impact on overall waste.

"This is not just a small share of waste, this is a tiny share of waste," he said.

"And I don't think that for every problem the answer is a new tax.

Supermarket checkout Supermarkets have already been encouraging customers to reduce their use of carrier bags

"There are already a number of different schemes to encourage people to think about using reusable bags, there are other schemes which involve using the carrot rather than the stick of a new tax."

Craig Bennett, policy and campaigns director of Friends of the Earth, said: "A plastic bag charge is welcome news, but let's not get carried away.

"This small step will do little to tackle the nation's huge waste mountain and can't disguise the government's woeful green record."

He said tougher action and ambitious targets were needed to to cut waste, boost recycling and "bring England in line with the rest of the UK and much of Europe".

BBC political correspondent Robin Brant said ministers acknowledged that shoppers may be unhappy about the prospect of the charge in what are "tough times" but the coalition believed it needed to tackle their use.

A number of supermarkets already encourage customers to limit their use of carrier bags by giving them loyalty points for providing their own. Marks & Spencer charges 5p for its plastic carrier bags, donating the profits to charities and education projects, but still gives out smaller bags.

Charities involved in clearing up the environmental damage caused by plastic bags will benefit from money raised by the new charge.

Groups such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage have long called for a charge. They said plastic bags littered England's streets and countryside.

The bags, they say, have proved harmful to wildlife which become entangled in them or think they are food.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    Why, oh why, oh why, doing away with a facility that benefits such a lot of people from the same “The Liberal Democrats Green Toyota Pries brigade” that tried to bring in minimum pricing for alcohol

    The problem isn’t with the plastic bags This is a problem that should be resolved by education and the law but that’s clearly too difficult

    STOP taking the easy option … address the cause!

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    While on balance this is probably a good move people do need to be aware that reusing bags that have contained food products without cleaning them increases the risk of food poisoning.

    Hands up who washes their bags for life?

    Can't see any hands out there!

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    Any attempt to reduce the number of plastic bags going to landfill is a good thing,. Funny is it not, that when this idea was introduced by the Scottish Government a few weeks ago it was heralded with negative innuendo and spin by the BBC. Quite the reverse when the English Government comes up with the idea. Further proof that the BBC speaks with a forked tongue in Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    I lose count of the number of times I have been in a shop for a single item or perhaps 2 and the assistant always bags them, even though it is usually in a bag or packaged. The worst offenders are when I actually buy a bag and they put the bag in a plastic bag?


    I always refuse bags, as I have a couple of large plastic bins in the boot of the car, so I wheel the trolley out and load it up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    Can they do nothing in a straightforward way?

    Not till 2015 (why?), only bigger stores (why?) and (only mentioned in interview when questioned) it will include paper carriers (why?).

    When Ireland introduced a tax, many years ago now, it applied to all stores and they still give you a really sturdy paper carrier for those times when you've gone without your own bag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    Once Labour get back in power it will make no difference anyway. Do not forget they have not had their hands in the tax payers pockets for a while they will be going cold turkey. Once back they will hit the tax payers in a rabid frenzy of tax. They will not have the income left to fill many bags of shopping so its a pointless policy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    All this "it will affect the poor" comments here are way off base.

    The issue here, is that people don't re-use bags several times, "poor" people of otherwise.

    Do what I do - buy proper stong bags and use them for several years.

    It's not rocket science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    Some years ago Asda introduced a policy whereby if you wanted a non-re-usable bag you had to ask for it. Many customers started using their bag for life bags. This policy did not last long and now they shove free bags at all customers.
    Why can this legislation not be introduced immediately, why wait until 2015? Surely there is an existing piece of legislation that can easily be ammended!

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    Long overdue; but why wait so long to introduce the new law – what’s wrong with starting it tomorrow?

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    This is a great idea. There are no downsides to this idea at all. The number of people constantly coming out of supermarkets with a plastic bag holding 1 or 2 items is ridiculous. The fact that some people are on here criticizing this is just an example of the knee-jerk criticism reaction that people in this country have to ANYTHING, ANY government does.

    But why take so long to introduce it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    500 Truth etc
    It's customer service,not self-service or thanks now pay for a bag
    For example,how can it be good customer service or we value the customer if you are forced to serve yourself when they deliberately have many un-staffed check-outs that force you to use self service check-outs(contradiction)and then use those same facts/stats to say how popular self service is,ditto 5 or 10 pence!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    A forced donation is not charity. If it was really about the plastic bags then surely the answer would be to switch to paper.

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    @4 quezi

    Instead of complaining about shelling out an extra £1 a week for plastic bags, spend it on cloth bags which will last you a number of years and will be paid for in a matter of a few weeks. Or is that too simple a concept for you to grasp?

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    "BTW why has spell check picked up the word "cheques"???"

    It's your browser settings. They sometimes get installed with an US English dictionary.
    Even when you think you've got UK English dictionaries up and running you can still default to the US English dictionary/spell check..

    e.g For Firefox

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    I have used my plastic bags to hold all the heavy industrial food packaging that you can't avoid in supermarkets and will continue to do so.
    Get rid of plastic packaging, bring back brown paper bags!
    Dave Townsend

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    it would make great sense if it wasn't for the fact that only a few months ago the UK rejected the EU proposal of introducing biodegradable bags in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    Why does it take the government so long to introduce these policies?

  • rate this

    Comment number 536.

    @ 188 most of the plastic collection bags you get aren't for charities at all, they're private companies who sell the goods on but give a tiny (or zero) amount of profits to charity - some have gotten in trouble with trading standards for using charity logos illegally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 535.

    "What would be more useful to me and the environment would be to cut down on all the non recylable packaging that fills the bags in the first place."
    Yup. I'm expected to sort as much waste into assorted bins for recycling as possible but most food packaging isn't recyclable. Legislate against the producer, not the end user.

  • rate this

    Comment number 534.

    To 514 to 517, and other nay-sayers: look on the positive side! Buy shares in basket-making companies. Grow reeds in your streams. Plant willow in your gardens. Go to basket-weaving classes at your adult educational colleges. Strap proper paniers to your bicycles. Wave goodbye to what have been, let's admit, not the prettiest bags of orange plastic ware.

    (I'd better stop there.)


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