UK Politics

Plastic bag profits should be donated, says Clegg

Man carrying plastic bags
Image caption England will be the last area of the UK to introduce a charge

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has unveiled plans for a 5p charge on plastic bags in England and says he hopes retailers will give any profits to environmental charities.

The plan aimed at discouraging the use of carrier bags could begin in 2015.

Mr Clegg said store groups were "keen" to donate the money but he did not confirm it would be possible to force them to do so by law.

Charges exist in Northern Ireland and Wales and are due to begin in Scotland.

Mr Clegg, who unveiled the policy ahead of the Lib Dems' party conference in Glasgow, confirmed there had been a "debate" in the coalition about the change during a difficult time for the economy.

"If the policy is successful, nobody will pay anything extra at all - all you do is reuse a thicker, sturdier plastic bag... this is absolutely not about seeking to raise costs for shoppers," he said.

"You might use them for 20 minutes walking back from the shops, but they take a thousand years to degrade and that's bad for the environment.

"It's an eyesore in our beautiful countryside, and out of sight, it causes suffering for animals who get killed by them.

"What we're doing is introducing something that other countries have done to reduce the number of disposable plastic bags and encourage us to use sturdier, reusable bags."

Reduced usage

A spokesman for trade association the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: "Working with our customers we have already succeeded in significantly reducing carrier bag usage.

"If the government has decided that it wants further and faster reductions, the way it can achieve this is through legislation.

"The BRC is keen to work closely with government to understand how any proposals that come forwards will be implemented."

But he added that the single-use carrier bags targeted by the government action accounted for less that 1% of household waste in the UK.

The charge will only apply to supermarkets and larger stores.

A spokeswoman for Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket group, said: "We are committed to reducing the use of single-use plastic carrier bags and welcome the opportunity to discuss the government's plans in more detail."

Marks & Spencer has charged for its plastic carrier bags since May 2008, donating the profits to environmental charities and education projects, but still gives out smaller bags.

A spokesman said: "The 5p charge has helped us reduce carrier bag use by 75% in our food halls. That's over two billion fewer bags since its introduction in 2008 and over £6m has gone to good causes as a result."

Charges applying to single-use carrier bags made from both plastic and paper came into effect in Wales in 2011 and Northern Ireland last year. Changes are due to come into force in Scotland next year.

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