Carrier bag charge for shoppers in Wales introduced

A charge on single-use carrier bags has come into force in Wales in a bid to cut back on their "excessive" use.

Customers are now paying a minimum of 5p per bag in Wales, the first UK nation to introduce a levy.

Businesses face fines of up £5,000 if they do not comply although a light touch on enforcement has been promised in the first three months.

Most people back the charge according to the Welsh Government, but business groups said some traders are confused.

Research by Cardiff University suggests shoppers are not clear on the reasons behind the charge.

The university's Centre for Business Relationships said it interviewed 600 shoppers and while 70% supported the levy, a significant number believed it was introduced solely to raise revenue for the government.

Keep a record

Report author Lori Frater said: "There is a level of confusion among the general public but what we found most was that the confusion relates to the differences in the Welsh charges to that which is applied in other countries like the Republic of Ireland.

"That's because a lot of people said to us it's plastic bags - they didn't actually identify that it's also extended to paper bags, and Wales is quite unique in that it's extending it to paper bags as well.

"But also many people turned round and said to us it was making money for the government. They weren't aware that no funds were going to the government and actually the money should be disseminated to charities and environmental causes."

She added that she did not think the 5p minimum charge was high enough and may have to be increased.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said some retailers were still unaware of the new regulations, despite the Welsh Government sending out information packs.

It also said there was confusion about exemptions to the levy and how the fee would be enforced.

'Possibly a concern'

However, the British Retail Consortium said it expected all the big firms to comply with the charge from Saturday morning.

Gareth Clubb, director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, said there had been a campaign to tackle the problem of single-use bags which had been supported by environmentalists, businesses, shoppers and schools all over Wales.

"We're delighted that this is coming in. Local groups of Friends of the Earth Cymru have been campaigning for many years for a plastic bag charge of some sort so we're very happy to see it come in," he said.

"The idea that people might see it as a plastic bag tax is possibly a concern but over the weeks and months, one of the things that retailers will have to do is to display where the money is going to so that will help dispel a lot of fears that people might have."

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 charge are used.

Green goal

The Welsh Government hopes it will reduce the number of bags issued by shops, saying their use is "excessive".

It estimates shoppers in Wales took home an estimated 350m carrier bags from the major supermarkets in 2009 - 273 bags for each household.

In 2007 BBC Wales asked for suggestions on laws which could be created by the Welsh assembly.

Neil Evans, who suggested a ban on carrier bags, welcomed the charge.

"I would rather see a complete ban but, in the absence of that, I think it's a good thing.

"There's been a lot of misrepresentation and misunderstanding by some people but I think it's going to be a great success."

Mr Evans said he was sure within a month most people would would reuse bags when they go shopping.

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