Carrier bag 5p levy needs rethink say businesses

Someone carrying their shopping back to the car at the supermarket All retail outlets, large and small, will have to charge for bags and account for the money that raises

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Leading retailers and pharmacists have called for a rethink about the carrier bag charge in Wales, a month before it is introduced.

Firms faces penalties of up to £5,000 if they give away single use bags for free as they will be breaking the law.

Businesses have also called for a "soft touch" approach to how the 5p levy on shoppers is enforced.

The Welsh Government said there would be a three-month "bedding in" period for shoppers and retailers.

On 1 October, Wales will become the first of the UK countries to bring in compulsory charge for single-use carrier bags.

Community Pharmacy Wales, which represents 708 pharmacies, says there are gaps in the plans.

Chief executive Russell Goodway said: "Local pharmacies will have to start introducing new arrangements asking patients for additional money based on rules that are far from clear and, in some cases, still not published."

He said the 5p charge would apply to some bags with some medicines in and not to the same bags with other medicines in.

Nick Servini, BBC Wales business correspondent

Traders have been calling for light touch regulation at the beginning and they are certainly getting that with the three-month bedding in period which means that there won't be any full enforcement of the charge until January 2012.

That said, the British Retail Consortium says it expects all the big firms to comply with the charge straight away.

The early success relies to a large extent on whether consumers and retailers buy into it.

There are potential areas of confusion. For example, if you pick up prescription medication at a chemist then you won't have to pay for the bag as it's exempted.

But if you pay for a bottle of shampoo at the same time at the check out, then you will have to pay 5p.

Another exemption is unwrapped or partially unwrapped food.

So if you go to a fast food restaurant and order fries you won't have to pay for the bag but you will pay if you order a burger with the fries because the burger is fully wrapped.

An exemption only applies if exempted items are the only products in the bag.

"With only a month to go, we are still discussing details with officials and that does not give sufficient planning time for businesses," he added.

"Even at this late stage, we ask ministers to think again on imposing this tax on healthcare in Wales."

The Federation of Small Businesses also said more information was needed for shoppers on what will happen.

Firms will have to keep track of the number of bags they hand out and, unless they employ fewer than 10 people, will be obliged to account for how the proceeds from the carrier bag charge are used.

Smaller outlets will still be required by law to pass the money on to environmental causes or charities.

Businesses can charge more than 5p for bags but the charge cannot be less.

Janet Jones, chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Welsh Policy Unit, said: "The Welsh Government needs to make sure that the charge is advertised as widely as possible and that there is a soft touch with regard to enforcement.

"It is important to allow small businesses to embed this in a suitable way.

"It is also key that shoppers embrace this change as part of a strategy for a sustainable Wales - this can only be done by gaining their support and backing for the charge."

'Real point'

Shoppers in Wales took home an estimated 350 million bags in 2009.

Bob Gordon, head of environment at the British Retail Consortium, said many retailers had made preparations to comply with the law.

BAG LEVY EXEMPTIONS INCLUDE:

Goldfish
  • Food items that are unwrapped - loose fruit and vegetables, bread, pick and mix sweets etc.
  • Live aquatic creatures in water - fish, coral, crabs etc.
  • Unpackaged blades - axe, knife blade or razor blade.
  • Loose seeds and bulbs.
  • Packaged uncooked fish or meat.
  • Bags on board ships, trains, aircraft, coaches or buses.
  • For a full list click here

He told BBC Radio Wales: "This will reduce the number of bags that are taken in Wales.

"The challenge will be people will forget their bags and then they will have to pay for a bag and that will frustrate them.

"It will in the short term, maybe in the medium term, add some costs for shoppers."

The Welsh Government said a mailing pack was sent out to 40,000 retailers and businesses at the end of last week.

It was a follow up to a main information pack sent out earlier this year, while all the information on the issue is on its Carrier Bag Charge website.

A spokesperson said the planned charge was announced in 2007 and its introduction was delayed by six months to accommodate the requests of retailers.

The spokesperson said: "Recent figures show that carrier bag use is still falling in Wales, while in other parts of the UK it is on the increase, and this is because people here know about the charge and are actively preparing for it.

BBC Wales asked members of the public for their views

"On enforcement we have already said that there should be a three-month bedding in period for the carrier bag charge whilst retailers and customers get used to it and that enforcement action should be avoided in this period.

"However the real point of the charge is to stop people taking a bag every time they go shopping. We want to see shoppers avoiding the charge wherever possible by reusing their own bags."

Are you happy with how the new levy is being introduced? Do you understand how it works? Here are a selection of your views

It seems to me that the consumers are being targeted as the easy option. Comparing the resources in a carrier bag with the resources that make up the packaging for many items bought at the super market shows how narrow minded this decision is. You only have to look at the amount of unnecessary packaging that is recycled to see that time and money would have been better spent working with the companies supplying the good we buy to reduce the amount of packaging they use. I'm very disappointed that the Welsh Government feel this should be top of their environmental list

Paul M, Cwmbran,

It is discusting to force people to give to charity. I for one will not be paying 1p for a bag, I would carry my shopping in the plastic bags that get shoved through my letter box almost every day of the week first. And where is the money coming from to pay for those. There are too many charities in this country, and I don't believe the money goes were it is intended.

Patricia Griffiths, Wrexham,

The reason they wanted this charge was because of landfill, but now carier bags are bio-degradable, they only last a few years not hundreds which was stated in 2007. Yet another tax on the bloke on the street, and useless Wales in the first country to bring it in, yet again we are a guinea pig for the rest of the UK.

Marcus,

We throw away much more in plastic packaging that we use in carrier bags! Why don't they target the unnecessary extra packaging? Option here is to pop a few miles over the border to supermarkets on the English side of the border. Reducing the number of trips will more than cover the cost of the ten extra miles per shopping trip!

Ian, near Yr Wyddgrug,

I think paper bags should be exempt. The paper can be or has already been recycled and they're biodegradeable.

Wyn, Cardiff,

Reading the plethora of negative comments for this article has really shocked me. I'm Irish and we have had a 15 cent levy on plastic carrier bags for approx 9 years now. The levy in Ireland has proven to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags used by consumers (by 90% in it's first 3 months of enforcement), and therefore the amount of plastic bags in our landfill sites. Even if the plastic bags we use are bio-degradable, what sense is there in using a new bag each time you visit a shop when you could use a 'bag for life' style one numerous times? There are benefits to the consumer also in that most supermarkets and large shops now stock heavy duty reusable bags, which are much easier to carry, especially for those using public transport. The issue of imposing a cost for the consumer is an important one, in order to change consumer perceptions of recycling and reusing, there must be a cost or percieved value to the consumer.

Andrea, Cardiff,

The tax is simply going to be unworkable, as well as unreasonable,to ask already hard pressed consumers to pay for every bag,even small paper bags for greetings cards, Medical products,etc once the tax is made clear and people realise how arbitary it is there will be problems for shopkeepers it will put them at a disadvantage to shops across the borders,

Alwyn Evans, Cardiff,

So, they are encouraging us to re-use 'single use' carrier bags. Can anybody see anything wrong with that statement? I am a retailer in Pwllheli and I have not been consulted over this or been given any information. But I do collect used carrier bags and friends and family do the same. I then give those used carrier bags to my customers. Surely, we should be encouraged to do that rather than tax our customers. Also, what are the tourists going to think when they are charged 5p for a carrier bag. The message to them is clear. Welcome to Wales. There is still one month left to scrap this half baked idea.

Tom Hughes, Pwllheli,

In a French supermarket I paid 70 cents for carrier bags, which makes 5p a paltry amount.

J Clitheroes, Clitheroe UK,

As a British ex-pat living in South Africa I'm amused by this article. Here a levy has been placed on bags for several years and it has had little or no effect in reducing the number of bags used - especially in the bigger stores. If the aim is to protect the environment etc then maybe a different plan is needed in both countries, perhaps US-style paper bags for groceries or cardboard boxes which are biodegradable could be a requirement. They would encourage planting of trees to produce the materials, thereby helping reduce carbon footprint as well. Just a thought.

David, Cape Town, SA,

I will make sure we shop in England, I am afraid local North Wales small businesses will lose out as a result of the bag tax.

Greg Mape, Llandulas and Manchester,

I read a Defra report which showed that the re-usable bags were more environmentally unfriendly than the biodegradable variety. I can see the point about bags littering the countryside but that is the work of irresponsible individuals, not the whole population, in any event droping litter is an offence. I use 'bags for life' from the supermarket for the weekly shop but occasionally need a bag for carrying things from the local shop when I don't have a bag on me, it will probably result in my passing the shop and it will lose business. Is that the law of unintended consequences? Will shoppers from outside Wales think twice before coming here?

Evan Owen, Harlech,

I think people are getting a little too uptight over all of this. Bags for life are far more reliable anyway, this might encourage people to remember them more often. At the end of the day people, it's 5p. You can find that on the street!

Ally, Swansea,

The compaints about this are making me smile, I worked in France for 4 years where they don't have single use bags in most shops and supermarkets, you simply buy a bag for life and remember it, if you forget, simply put your goods back in your trolly and put it loose in your boot. That tends to help you to remember next time, and at 5p for a bag if you have to have one....as ally from swansea points out, you can find that on the street.

Mark Fairley, Sychdyn,

It will encourage the scrooges of the Welsh Border towns like mine to shop in England instead but it wont make any difference to me, I will still forget to take my bags with me and buy them adding about 20p to my bill - wow! Its When they up the levey (which they will) that it will start to bite and that's when I will start to grow more of my own Fruit and Veg and cut back on my bill a little.

Andrew Lindop, Connah's Quay,

There will be some 'bedding in' issues for this scheme, but I think the Welsh Government should be applauded for taking this step. Use the money to assist in funding allotments and the like. I am fairly certain that many of the dectractors on the site have at least one drawer in their kitchen stuffed full of single use bags! Please! - it's little to expect that people can plan a little when shopping - if they're going to drive over the border or pay 5p a pop perhaps there should be an additional tax on stupidity or pigheadedness (if that's a word?)

David, Cwmbran,

I used to have small nylon carrier bags which zip folded in on themselves into a shape small enough to fit in my handbag. I just need to get into the habit of keeping one in each handbag once I find them in the shops again. The free for life bags that the supermarkets give are much too big to keep on me and tend to go back in the car boot ready for next time. Presumably that costs me more petrol to carry them round. In the end "energy can neither be created or destroyed" so what we save in one area

Liz, Cardiff,

I always reuse my carrier bags, mainly as bin liners. All this will mean is that I will buy bin liners, which from what I've seen are made of stronger and heavier plastic than carrier bags.

J Ali, Cardiff,

I welcome the levy and I'm proud Wales has had the gumption to do this first in the UK (though we're still lagging other countries like Ireland). I don't want to pay 5p so I'll carry re-usable bags with me, I already carry bags for life in the car for shopping. There are exemptions too. So less knee-jerk reactions please people, look into the facts and think about the bigger picture.

Gary Williams, Magor,

Here in Korea you have the choice of paying 5p for a flimsy paper bag, or 25p for a plastic bag. The result? More people using their cars to go shopping so they can just shove items into the boot of their cars Make the bags biodegradable and let us have at it!

Dean Brown, Jeju Island, South Korea,

Charging for bags really is ridiculous. What is needed is education, and possibly some legislation limiting the number of free bags a customer can have at the checkout. I can't believe it when I see some people using 10+ bags rather then using bags for life. They must be a bit thick or indifferent. But most of my shopping is impulse buying and I do not like carrying my new pyjamas down the high street and back to the office for all the world to see at lunchtime. I hardly ever plan to shop so wouldn't have a bag on me. They'll be telling us how many sheets of toilet roll we can use per visit soon,- will we have to keep a record sheet or will we have cameras built into loos in every new property in future?

Dan,

You moaning minnies should grow up. So people will spend £6 a gallon travelling miles over the border just to save 5p on a bag, will they? Such nincompoopery beggars belief.

Gwilym Prydderch, Cardiff,

Right, so customers have to pay for their bags. Don't forget that small businesses have to buy the bags in the first place. A lot of small businesses are struggling enough as it. "5p minimum"? "businesses can charge more"? Hah! Customers would probably be hapy to know that 5p goes towards a charity but if businesses decide to charge a bit more to recover the cost of buying the bags in the first place you really think customers would understand that?

Josephine, Cam, UK,

The Welsh Government chose to ignore the vast rafts of objections to their proposals, and haven't amended them in anyway whatsoever - in line with the replies to their consultation. There are far greater things in Wales for the Assembly to be worrying about than whether or not shoppers are using too many bags. Such as woeful shortfalls in education and health funding, and employment levels compared to England. A common point of view in the consultation was that whilst most people accepted a charge on plastic carrier bags biodegradable bags such as paper bags shouldn't attract the charge, but they've ignored this completely, for no reason. There are also issues with those of us who live on the border, do we go shopping in Wrexham etc and worry about bags - or do we go to Chester which are both the same distance away? It's the Government dictating to the people what THEY think is best - look at the comments here, it's vastly opposed to the charge.

Gareth Baines, Hawarden,

This law just targets the soft touch shopper, whilst the manufacturers and retailers continue to grossly over-package their products and get away with it. If any retailer actually tries to charge me for a bag, of any sort, so that I can take away the goods I am about to pay them for I will simply leave the goods where they are and walk out of the shop. If everyone did the same the shops would soon be offering basic multi-use bags that comply with the law at no charge.

Bob, Cwmbran,

I could understand the charge if the proceeds were used for something beneficial but i have just followed the link displayed above to the government website and it tells me that charity contributions are only VOLUNTARY and that the supermarkets can chose to use the money as they wish!? So my 5p per bag will not be going towards anything other than lining their pockets! Marvellous!

Nicola Thomas, Cwmbran,

People are lazy in general and it needs a cash penalty to change their habits. If Sainsbury can sell a Bag for Life for 10p and replace it for free when it wears out it seems this is the way to go. Same with the energy efficient light bulbs. Here it's the other way round and folks don't seem to care about reducing their electricity bill even when they moan about the current increases. Ireland has got it right.

James Styles, Whitstable,

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