Plastic bag fee increase risks 'tokenism'

| 1st September 2020 |
Plastic carrier bag

Shopping in a plastic carrier bag. 

The government is taking a small step in the right direction by raising the price of plastic bags again...

...but by now they should be taking great strides.

The fee for plastic carrier bags is set to double from April next year, with the charge being extended to all shops in England, the government has announced.

Small retailers – defined as those employing 250 people or fewer – will no longer be exempt from the levy, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Following a public consultation last year, in which the “vast majority” of respondents welcomed the changes, the minimum charge for single use carrier bags will increase to 10p. The department said it has committed to implementing both changes from April 2021.

Reductions

While the move to extend the charge was welcomed by campaigners, Greenpeace said that carriers bag were only “one part of the problem”.

Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “By raising the price of plastic bags again the government is taking a small step in the right direction, but by now they should be taking great strides.

“Reinstating the previous price of carrier bags, but not taking action on bags for life, is only looking at one part of the problem.

“And it could be construed as tokenism when there are so many ways ministers know they could be driving fast and substantial reductions on plastic pollution.

Reuse

“If they’re increasing costs for shoppers, ministers really have no excuse not to increase costs for the companies that are responsible for the escalating volumes of single-use plastic packaging in the first place.”

CPRE, the countryside charity, called for action to be taken on all single-use items, such as takeaway cups and forks.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive, said: “To truly step up and face the war on plastic, Government should bring in charges on all single-use, throwaway items – from takeaway cups to wooden forks.

“Incentivising reuse systems and finally committing to an all-in Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers are the only ways the Government can achieve a litter-free countryside and win the war on waste.”

Single-use

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The UK is already a world-leader in this global effort, and our carrier bag charge has been hugely successful in taking billions of harmful plastic bags out of circulation.

“But we want to go further by extending this to all retailers so we can continue to cut unnecessary waste and build back greener."

The 5p levy on plastic bags was introduced in England in 2015, with the most recent figures showing that the number of single-use bags distributed by large supermarkets has fallen more than 95 percent. 

The average person in England now buys just four single-use bags a year, compared to around 140 in 2014.

This Author

Emma Bowden is a reporter with PA.

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