Plastic bag ban 'could be considered', minister says

image captionOn 1 October, Wales will introduce a compulsory 5p charge for single-use carrier bags

The government could introduce a complete ban on plastic bags, the recycling minister has suggested.

Lord Henley told peers the government was "not happy" that in 2010, use of carrier bags actually rose by 5% after four years of decline.

He said he would consider "additional measures" if there was no improvement.

Asked whether that might include an outright ban - as has been introduced in Rwanda - the minister said it was "an option that one could look at".

On 1 October, Wales will introduce a compulsory 5p charge for single-use carrier bags, and any firms who flout the law could face penalties of up to £5,000.

Northern Ireland has launched a consultation on plans to bring in a similar tax.

Between 2006 and 2009 plastic bag use in England and Scotland declined by 40% to under 6.5bn, but in 2010 consumption unexpectedly rose again to more than 6.8bn.

'Warning labels'

Speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Labour peer Lord McConnell said Rwanda's ban on bags - introduced in 2005 - had lead to it "being widely described as the cleanest country in the whole of Africa?"

He said "the impact on litter pollution and also civic duty in Rwanda has been considerable", and asked whether the government would learn from such international examples.

Lord Henley said ministers would "look carefully" at the impact of the bag tax in Wales, and said he would like to discuss the experience of a complete ban with his Rwandan counterpart.

"We are not happy that the decline in the use of single-use plastic bags has not been maintained and that there has been an increase," he said.

"When we got those figures in the summer, I made it clear that, if we do not see an improvement, we may have to consider additional measures in the future, and we will certainly learn from all other countries."

Lord Henley was also asked to consider labelling plastic bags with the length of time they take to biodegrade in an effort to discourage their use.

But he replied: "It is unclear whether labelling carrier bags with details of biodegradability influences consumer behaviour.

"It might wrongly imply that quicker-degrading bags have less environmental impact."

He also said the rate of decomposition for bags varied depending on the environment they were left in and therefore a single date for labelling would be hard to determine.

Labour peer Lord Knight accused the government of a "lack of action" on waste reduction and suggested that more rigidly enforced targets might help.

But Lord Henley said targets could "very often distort behaviour and distort priorities and how people deal with things".

"We made clear in our waste review that we want to make it easy for individuals and organisations to do the right thing, because a great many of them want to do just that," he said.

"We will continue that process, and I hope that as a result we will head towards that zero-waste economy that we are looking for."

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