'Bags-for-life' face 5p charge in Wales

Shopping bags being carried Lightweight shopping bags come with a 5p charge but 'bags-for-life' are exempt

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The 5p charge on single use carrier bags in Wales could be extended to heavy-duty so-called "bags-for-life".

Welsh government ministers are considering removing the exemption on the heavier bags.

The single-use bag charge was introduced two-years ago, cutting use of the bags in Wales by 90%.

Ministers say there is a risk that the heavier bags are now being treated as "throw-away", even though retailers charge between 5p and 10p for them.

In their proposals for the environment bill, the government says ministers should have powers to impose a minimum charge on bags-for-life if they believe the sale and disposal of them continues to rise.

Start Quote

There is a potential risk that many consumers start treating a low cost reusable plastic bag as a 'throw-away bag'”

End Quote Welsh government white paper

Recent data has shown the sale of bags-for-life by supermarkets in Wales has more than doubled between 2010 and 2012.

In terms of weight, this corresponds to around 30% of the reduction in weight of the thin-gauge single-use bags.

In their white paper on the bill, the government says: "An increase in demand for bags-for-life was expected in Wales following the introduction of the charge as consumers got used to reusing their bags and purchased enough bags-for-life for their shopping needs.

"However, there is a potential risk that many consumers start treating a low-cost reusable plastic bag as a 'throw-away bag' and discard it prematurely.

"This 'substitution effect' is likely to have significant adverse environmental impacts if these types of bags are disposed of inappropriately; as such bags are typically made of heavier gauge materials and take longer to degrade."

Good causes

The government has also stated that it will not prevent retailers donating the 5p levy to any good cause, not just the environmental charities that were originally envisaged.

It said: "From the information provided by the 246 retailers that have signed up to the code on the Welsh government website and from the retailers' records we have seen, many of the good causes that are currently benefitting from the net proceeds are, for example, cancer charities and children's hospices amongst others.

"The Welsh government's stated policy aim in relation to the charge is that it would prefer that environmental good causes benefit from the charge.

"However, the Welsh government does not wish to cut across the existing relationships that retailers have with other good causes that contribute to the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of Wales."

The proposals in the bill come ahead of a review of the current bag charging policy, which will take place next year.

First Minister Carwyn Jones has said that review will also examine the practices of some retailers.

He said: "There is a policy review, which will be undertaken after November of next year, but, certainly, at this moment in time, there are no plans to change the levy.

"It depends, of course, on what that review shows and on what we see as the practices of some supermarkets at the moment, which are charging just 1p more for bags for life, thus, avoiding, in some ways, the levy.

"We will have to keep a close eye on that, of course."

What do you think of the proposal to put a 5p levy on 'bags-for-life'?

It is unfortunate that the assembly have nothing better to worry about than the cost of reusable bags. The reason that more of them are being used is quite simple. It has taken a while for the general public to get used to the idea. We ourselves have about two dozen life bags that are distributed amongst our cars and they are used until they collapse and not discarded per se. If they put a further levy on the price of these bags, that is more expense for hard pressed families. As Tesco often has said, 'every little helps' and in my very humble opinion, it would be far better if the assembly government put in place provisions that would enable patients in West Wales to get their much needed orthopaedic operations now and not left to queue in the summer of 2014.

Alan Matthews, Llandysul, Ceredigion

I think it is diabolical to charge 15p for a plastic carrier bag. I re-use mine as much as I can, but they should not be called 'Bags for Life'. I have had to throw away quite a few when the handles have snapped or the bag itself has ripped. I also use mine for recycling, if the charge is going up another 5p I think there are going to be a lot of unhappy individuals. I also think the government have a cheek to charge more maybe if they cut more benefits they wont need to charge as much to the people who actually pay tax!

Louise, Merthyr Tydfil

I personally feel that we should not be charged the extra 5p for the 'Bags for life'. Saying this however, it may decrease the amount of waste usage which in turn will benefit our environment. However they are destructible, the handles can rip. I do reuse the bags yet there comes a time when they are no longer durable and are having to be thrown away (In my case recycled). The government should have a long hard think as their decision will have an impact on shoppers.

Rebecca Armstrong, Nottingham

Where does the money go when you pay for a bag? It was sold to us to help the environment. How? What projects have been paid for by this scheme? Which charities have benefited? As far as I can see, none, except the shop-keepers stealthily increasing profits. I would happily be corrected on this by the way.

Michael Flanagan, Bridgend

Absolutely ridiculous. A Bag For Life - doesn't that mean 'life'? The point is to eliminate needless use of the flimsy plastic carrier bag and if that will be a cheaper option then shoppers may choose that option thus bringing back the original problems of plastic in landfill, pollution and so on. All of the 5p for those bags should go to charity (it doesn't - I believe some goes to government) and Bags For Life should be left alone to do their intended job.

Sharon, Cardiff

It seems the assembly members are living in another world to the rest of us on just above minimum wage - an extra 5p. I use my bags until they split which is quite often then when I go to Asda or Tesco they always seen to be out of bags for life and charge 5p for the thin ones. We cant all live in big houses and shop at Waitrose. The govt should be tackling big issues not stupid little ones like making the poor pay more for shopping bags. Mind I would like a job paying £60,000 pa and I could come up with plenty of stupid time wasting policies

Keith Slade, Cardiff

The WG say there is a risk but there is no hard evidence to support this, could this be a move by WG to improve donations to charities at a time of reduction in traditional donations.

Allan, Blackwood

I don't expect a Bag for Life to last for ever. When it breaks, I return it to the supermarket for a free replacement. The supermarket then disposes of it properly. That's the idea behind it. I keep a supply of them in the car - I don't buy the cheap 5p bags as they are useless for heavy or bulk shopping.

Allan, Cardiff

The Welsh NHS is falling to pieces and risking another 'Mid Staffs', there are fewer higher rate taxpayers in Wales than there are people in Swindon, the roads are full of potholes and educated graduates are flooding to England because there are no jobs. But it's all ok because the Welsh Assembly Government is devoting its time to a policy review on carrier bags (and further devolution).

Alex Williams, London

The article fails to remind the reader about the concept, a Bag for life is replaced free of charge once worn out.

Kevin J Walters, London

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