Extra 5p 'bags-for-life' charge would be 'perverse', warn retailers

Ministers say use of plastic bags has dropped by 81% in supermarkets since the charge was introduced in 2011

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Retailers have warned Welsh ministers it would be "perverse" to extend the 5p charge on plastic bags to "bags-for-life" sold by major stores.

Ministers say use of plastic bags has dropped by 81% in supermarkets since the charge was introduced in 2011.

But they say some customers are buying bags-for-life and throwing them away or forgetting to re-use them.

The Welsh Retail Consortium (WRC) said it was wrong to penalise customers for buying and using reusable bags.

In the Welsh government's proposals for the environment bill, ministers float the idea of extending the charge to cover bags-for-life, which are outside the scope of the charge.

Supermarkets currently charge between 5p and 10p for the re-usable bags.

The plans are out to consultation until January.

Ministers are also considering extending their powers to force retailers to pass on money raised from bag charges to environmental causes.

Start Quote

It seems slightly perverse to be telling customers that we want them to reuse their bags and then tax them, basically penalising them for using and buying reusable bags."”

End Quote John Munro Welsh Retail Consortium

John Munro from the WRC told BBC Wales's Sunday Politics programme: "The Welsh Retail Consortium does not support extending the charges to reusable carrier bags or bags for life the simple reason is we're trying to encourage customers to reuse their carrier bags and we're doing that by placing a charge on single use carrier bags.

"It seems slightly perverse to be telling customers that we want them to reuse their bags and then tax them, basically penalising them for using and buying reusable bags."

'Deep support'

Natural Resources Minister Alun Davies said: "What we're doing in the white paper is saying we want to change the way we manage our natural resources in Wales...what we want to see is a more consistent, coherent way of doing this across the whole country and we want to manage our waste better.

"And as a part of managing our waste we want to have the powers to enable us to make additional charge where they are necessary and if they are necessary in the future.

"This isn't about picking a fight with anybody, retailers or otherwise. This is about managing our natural resources in Wales in a very positive way, in a very sustainable way.

"That has broad support and wide support and deep support across the whole of Wales, and as a part of that we're looking at how we manage our waste.

"We know that we've seen tremendous increase in recycling rates over the last few years...the way that people have changed their behaviour in Wales since we introduced a relatively small charge for a plastic bags is almost emblematic of the changes we want to see in the future as well.

"So what we're saying about plastic bags is only one element of a much wider and perhaps more important story."

'Big mistake'

Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies said: "As someone who believes in small government obviously I would like to see a very light touch when it comes to regulation or legislation.

"But, as I say, it's about striking a balance between what is a sensible compromise between improving the environmental credentials of Wales and having this levy that people have accepted because it's a modest sum of money and it is making an impact and then being seen to (be) turning it into maybe more of a penalty and a heavier hand of government that actually people will start to resent.

"I think that would be a big mistake."

Northern Ireland has its own 5p bag charge, although plans to increase the charge to 10p were recently dropped.

Scotland is introducing a 5p charge next year, with England due to follow after the 2015 General Election.

Sunday Politics is on BBC One Wales at 11:00 GMT on Sunday, 24 November.

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