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 1113.

    Large, sturdy and long-term bags have been widely and cheaply available across every supermarket chain in England for years.

    Yet, this charge has received much support?

    So, society is going to start utilising a long-standing service that it's always wanted to use but has avoided because of the lack of motivation from a small silver-coloured circle piece of metal?

    Well - if that's what it takes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1112.

    5 Hours ago
    Now all we've got to do is stop supermarkets packaging anything and everything in plastic. Is it really necessary to shrink wrap a cucumber?
    It is if you have to fly the thing in from Ghana how environmentally friendly is that!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1111.

    I use home delivery and they put my goods in a lot more bags than I would have done. Does this mean I have to pay for however many bags they use? I used to take my own bags when I could get to the shops and they gave a (very small) refund for any bags you had brought. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1110.

    Paper or plastic bags both use dwindling resources, take your own bags, they're generally stronger and hold more stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1109.

    People are suggesting paper bags as a better alternative, but what happens when your bulging bags get wet in the rain or from a leakage?-They fall apart. Just saying.
    It seemed to become "uncool" in the 80s to use a permanent shopping bag; plastic store carrier bags becoming desirable, perversely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1108.

    Sad to see so many lazy ppl can't be bothered to take a bag out with them to the shops. Get with the program, most of you are quite happy to go in and spend a small fortune on junk food but you can't afford to buy a bag for life. A bit pathetic really.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1107.

    This is long overdue. It is so unnecessary to use mountains of plastic bags. How difficult is it to keep some cotton/canvas ones in your car boot for the large shop and a little one in your bag for the odd small item?!

    They cause untold suffering to wildlife that becomes tangled in them or tries to eat them. We must reduce this and the revolting environmental pollution plastic bags cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1106.

    Do the Lib Dems ever have a policy that doesn't entail more tax?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1105.

    1095.Lou Macari Chipshop
    1095 is an Editors' Pick
    instead of charging for plastic bags, wouldn't a better incentive be a discount on your shopping if you don't use them.

    What a wonderful idea, why dont you dress up & take your idea & go visit supermarkets main offices & explain it to them, maybe they could give store card points 5 points = 5p per own bag, or maybe just laugh at you

  • Comment number 1104.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1103.

    1075 Then the solution is to stop being lazy and go to the shop yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1102.

    Hopefully this is just the start. Far too many people think that packaging can be discarded without thought as soon as they have finished with the contents. I also think that demographics need to be looked at too as there is far more litter pro rata in the densely populated areas than in the not so densely populated areas. But then it does take intelligence to be responsible for your packaging.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1101.

    Biodegradable plastic made from potato starch has been available for ages. You could actually eat them! Why turn the clock back. People use bags because they are convenient and what is so wrong with convenient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1100.

    This will make little practical difference to the environment as most people will use more petrol driving to the shops than will ever be saved from not manufacturing plastic bags. Worse, it will give people a self-righteous glow that they're "making a difference". It's designed to boost shops' profits by not needing them to supply bags - instead of compelling them to provide paper ones as in USA

  • rate this

    Comment number 1099.

    So now let us find reason to discourage folks from use of whatever goods and services we each provide. Condolences to all those and their dependants who are now suffering because they are displaced from a livelihood in the manufacture of plastic bags. Beware this could soon happen to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1098.

    5p per bag - great idea. Better still, take your own re-useable bag. I'm sick of seeing supermarket bags snagged in bushes, floating in rivers and skulking in the sea. Role out charges for excess packaging - but I'm not sure we can we trust the money raised to find its way to helping the environment. Plastic bag manufacturers won't like it but what do they do to clean their mess up - nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1097.

    Charging 5p for the shopping bag doesn't seem to change peoples’ behavior. In Sports Direct I saw customer paying 99p n 79p for Bag for Life n rarely any1 brings those bags on their next shopping. These bags contaminate the environment very badly n which is happening at an alarming rate. Best solution would b banning all plastic bags and Introduce paper bags or use bags which r biodegradable

  • rate this

    Comment number 1096.

    Foolhardy plan. Everyone is going to stockpile bags now. Totally not thought out. Took 20 odd bags from the supermarket today!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1095.

    instead of charging for plastic bags, wouldn't a better incentive be a discount on your shopping if you don't use them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1094.

    1080. fritz
    ...good idea in away..but the bag will still have the brand of the supermarket on the bag...

    Turn it inside out as a mate of mine doe, he also ask's for a refund when he takes the bags back says the don't suit his outfit.


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