'Confusion' over single use carrier bag levy for Wales

plastic bag
Image caption The Welsh Government wants to cut down on the "excessive" number of bags which create litter

Confusion surrounds a forthcoming Welsh carrier bag levy just a day before it is introduced, it is claimed.

Shoppers in Wales will be charged at least 5p for single use bags at all shops, including takeaways and pharmacies, from 1 October.

The Federation of Small Businesses said some shops were still baffled, but environmental groups said Wales was leading the way on reducing litter.

The Welsh Government wants to cut down on the "excessive" number of bags.

Wales is the first nation in the UK to introduce the charge.

All shops, from food stores to fashion retailers, will be required by law to introduce the levy, which it is hoped will encourage people to take their own bags shopping.

The Welsh Government wants to follow Ireland's example with a 90% reduction in carrier bag use.

Environmental groups, including Keep Wales Tidy and Waste Awareness Wales, have welcomed the charge, saying Wales is leading the way over the issue.

But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Wales has raised concerns that some retailers are still unaware of the impending charges, despite the Welsh Government sending out information packs.

It added that other shops had said they were confused about exemptions to the levy and how the fee would be enforced.

"There's a lot of confusion and I think it will take a long time for people to get used to the charge - both businesses and shoppers," said Non Rhys, Wales Policy Manager at FSB, which has around 10,000 members in Wales.

"Not all retail businesses will have had the packs from the Welsh Government because there's not a list of all the retailers in Wales, so we have been trying to contact as many businesses as possible. But there will be some small businesses that do not know."

The British Retail Consortium, which represents all retailers, said its members were ready but that the Welsh Government still needed to "iron out potentially confusing anomalies" over the levy.

"It needs to explain and address anomalies which mean that, for example, you can have a free bag with a carton of chips but not if it comes with a burger in a box," said Bob Gordon, head of environment.

"Or a DIY shop can give you a bag for 500 screws but not for five or six."

Firms could face penalties of up to £5,000 if they give away single use bags made from plastic, paper or biodegradable material for free.

Local authorities will have to enforce the levy, although the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), said it was unlikely to be "top of the list of priorities" for trading standards and environmental officers.

"There will be a very light touch enforcement, especially for the first three months," said Simon Wilkinson, regulatory services policy officer at the WLGA.

"The first option will always be to help businesses comply with the regulations. It's only when businesses ignore advice over a period of time then local authorities would look to enforcement."

Businesses with over 10 staff will be obliged to keep a record of the number of bags issued and account for how the proceeds from the carrier bag charge are used.

Firms are being encouraged to give any profits to charitable and environmental causes.

A spokesman for the Welsh Government said it had been "proactively communicating" with businesses to raise awareness and had sent out two separate information packs in March and August.

"We want to see shoppers avoiding the charge wherever possible by re-using their own bags," he said.

"We expect to see a 90% reduction in bag use once the charge comes into force."

Environment Minister John Griffiths said: "The introduction of this charge delivers an important message about the need for us all to live more sustainable lives... carrier bags present a real litter problem and it's estimated that local authorities spend more than £1m a year clearing them up."

Ministers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also considering measures to reduce the use of carrier bags.

Prime Minister David Cameron has warned supermarkets that unless stores deliver "significant" reductions of the use of single-use bags over the next 12 months, they could either be banned outright from giving them away or be legally required to charge customers for them.

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