Carrier bag tax - coming to a retail establishment near you
We all know carrier bags are the source of all evil, after all the Government have been telling us so through the reusing bags campaign since 2006. And it has been working, the number of bags used in the UK have fallen year on year- until now. New figures show that the number of bags used between June 2010 and May 2011 actually rose by five per cent from 6.5 billion to 6.8 billion. The recycling minister is not pleased, and with Wales’ 5p per bag tax scheduled to come in on 1 October, could we see a similar move in the rest of the UK?
The number of bags counted included reusable cotton, jute and ‘bags for life’ but single use carrier bags, that are most blamed for litter, went up in the UK by five per cent to 6.4 billion, despite falling 40 per cent in the previous five years. Overall bag numbers fell by 37 per cent in the previous five years.
So what went wrong? Well, no one knows. Some say the increase is down to shoppers buying more resusables, others suggest that the ordinary man on the street suffering under the recession can’t afford to buy a reusable bag. Either way, these figures are playing right into the hand of carrier bag tax proponents.
The Welsh assembly have already passed a carrier bag tax of 5p per bag, which will become effective on 1 October. Use of single use carrier bags in Wales over the same period was 12 per cent lower than the rest of the UK.
John Griffiths, the Welsh Environment Minister, gloated “These figures show a real difference between carrier bag use in Wales and that in other parts of the UK where no mandatory charge is planned. This proves that the carrier bag charge...is the only way to ensure a real and lasting reduction in the use of carrier bags.” His argument is that shoppers in Wales and the rest of England are equally aware of the environmental and litter issues of carrier bags, but it is only the threat of the tax that is now effectively changing people’s behaviour.
Lord Henley, the Government’s Recycling Minister*, grumbled “This isn’t good enough. Retailers need to take responsibility and lift their game to cut down on the number of single use carrier bags they hand out. If results do not improve we will consider additional measures to make this happen, including legislation," he said. As we can (probably) assume the legislation her refers to is unlikely to be the handing out of ASBOs to non-resusable shoppers, this is a real threat of a UK wide carrier bag tax.
But are consumers in the wider UK ready or willing to change, even with a tax? Some retailers have already started charging for carrier bags, either because they are a luxury not handed out willy nilly at no-frills stores such as Aldi, or as part of a commitment to the environment like Marks and Spencer, who donated £3million to environmental causes earlier this year. But retailer TK Maxx, who levied a minimum 2p charge for carrier bags in 2008, which apparently reduced plastic bag use by 73% has now reintroduced free bags into its stores, after asking customers what they thought. Like they were going to say ‘Yes, please charge me for something I can get free elsewhere’.
So what do you think? Is a tax the only way to punish non-reusers, or do you reuse your bags in a different way, eg as bin liners? Do you even care?
*was anyone else surprised that there is even a job title of Recycling Minister?