Carrier bag charges- coming to a shop near you?
Plastic carrier bags are very handy things. You can put your shopping in them, you can wear them as a hat if it’s raining, and they mean you don’t ever need to buy bags for the inside of household bins. In fact, the multi-use qualities of the plastic carrier bag, coupled with their capacity for biodegradeability and the fact that most bags are used many more times after first acquisition, means that most people wouldn’t think carrier bags were the best place to focus environmental efforts.
However, down in the Valleys, carrier bags became public enemy number 1, and from 1 October last year, all carrier bags (plastic and paper) were subject to a 5p levy. New research reveals that this charge has meant fewer people have been picking up new carrier bags than when they were free. Wonders will never cease.
The full report, which includes data from both Cardiff University and the British Retail Consortium, shows that own-bag use in Wales has increased from 61 per cent to 82 per cent, and that public support for the charge has increased from 59 per cent to 70 per cent
The reductions estimated by retailers are as follows:
> Food retail - between 96% and 70% reduction in bag use
> Fashion - between 75% and 68% reductions
> Home improvement - 95% reduction
> Food service - up to 45% reduction
> Telecommunications - 85% reduction
Environment Minister John Griffiths was understandably 'delighted' at the news.
“Research and retail figures support what shoppers and retailers have been telling us for some time. The Welsh public have adjusted brilliantly to the Welsh bag charge and the majority now regularly take their own bags with them when they go shopping. I would like to thank retailers and shoppers for their ongoing help in making this policy – the first of its kind in the UK- a success,” he declared.
But other parties are likely to be equally as delighted with the new scheme. Environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy has received more than £105,000-worth of retailer donations as a direct result of the bag charge. Not bad, but bear in mind that the retailers don’t have to donate their 5 pences at all, if they decide to keep the extra money, they can. “The Welsh Government wants this to be passed on to good causes, preferably environmental good causes, here in Wales”, but there is no enforcement and paying the money over relies on a voluntary code of practice. That you can voluntarily decide to ignore.
So, retailers are taking more money, charities are getting more money, who else must be getting a slice of this pie? The taxman.
While this is very definitely not a carrier bag tax, VAT registered retailers must account for VAT on the 5p charge, so for every tiny shiny coin, the tax man gets 0.83p. Doesn’t sound like much, but if we assume all of the donations to Keep Wales Tidy were from VAT registered businesses, the taxman has earned nearly £21,000 in nine months from a lower populated area of the UK. Not bad for not doing any extra work. Perhaps they could employ someone to chase tax avoidance.
So, given that the carrier bag levy is pleasing everyone, surely it’s only a matter of time until it is rolled out across the country. Better start stockpiling now…