Carrier bag tax - coming to a retail establishment near you

29 July 2011

carrier bagsWe 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 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?

TOPICS:   Tax   High Street News   Government


  • T E.
    I'm in favour of it, I watched a woman the other week putting all her items in individual carrier bags and then putting them all in one carrier bag.
  • oliverreed
    Do you see little retailers doing this? I shop at Aldi, I use plastic 'trugs' in the boot of my car to transfer the contents of the trolley to my car. Really easy way to empty the car of shopping in 2/3 trips when you get home. How would this work on self check-out tills?
  • Captain K.
    Could it be that in these troubled times the general populations tolerance to idiotic non-problems like how many bloody plastic bags are being used drops to zero? That when trying to juggle kids, unemployment, bankruptcy and clinical depression remembering to a take some bags to the supermarket is a low priority? Lets chalk it up to more important things to worry about right now and leave people the fuck alone, for once. Not going to happen though. There is tax money to be gathered and smug, superior attitudes to be preserved.
  • Marky M.
    Don't the government have more important things to worry about?
  • yorkieboy
    I guess Ill just have to ignore the trail of blood from my hessian reusable bag as I walk home from M&S with a bloody chicken! Pure and simply another fund raising exercise. Why not just add it to the likes of the air taxes and in doing so allow the UK to save the planet...Not! Anyone who’s ever travelled to a third world country will recognize that here in the UK , we are only recreational users of plastic bags by comparison. Ridiculous.
  • Zleet
    Someone should make a keyring with one of those stretchy net orange bags in it that folds up to not much bigger than a pen drive. I buy so many bags for life that I must be the supermarket equivalent of immortal by now.
  • Kev
    It's a shame they don't look into the product packaging as well as the carrier bags.. Generally products are packed in oversized boxes. Everybody should do their bit, getting manufactures to reduce thier packing will in turn reduce the carrier bags used. Supermarkets are equally to blame, the "free" carrier bags are basically crap, only good for one use. Sure they put "please reuse me" on the side of the bag, but I find they barely make it from shop to home. I suspect a lot of people do not "go shopping" anymore, eg. make a special trip once a week to the supermarket. Instead they do smaller shops when they are passing the stores "on other journeys." Hell thats what I do, on the way to/from work, makes more sense to me. Thus without a "fixed" we're going to supermaket, they forget to take any bags for life with them,,, :/
  • kv
    the Irish plastic bag levy reduced usage by 90% within a year, same in UKwould save nearly SIX BILLION bags a year. well worth it for a small charge. what I do is use pedal bin liners (with a tie handle), and keep a couple in my pocket at all times, only cost a few pence each
  • Shooter M.
    @kv: Who gives a fuck about saving nearly SIX BILLION bags a year? And why shouldn't people, who have spend their money in a shop, be given a free means of transporting their purchase that doesn't involve them becoming the sort of sad cunt that carries pedal bin liners in their pockets?
  • Alexis
    On the rare occasion I shop at M&S, I just use the self service checkout, tell the machine I don't want any bags and then just take as many as I need. Maybe the government should pay 10p for every bag submitted to designated recycling centres. People would fall over themselves.
  • oliverreed
    @kv do you use them as condoms as well?
  • kv
    @oliverreed, I'd need dustbin liners for that
  • Hank V.
    Captain Kibble - spot on with your comments, all this shit about being green - wait till the winter arrives when you can be enticed into shops by their warm air blowers above the doorway! If there was a REAL crisis over the number of carrier bags wasted in this country then I'd be able to re-cycle the fuckers along with the other HPDE waste (milk "bottles") that I put into my recycling bin every week, (reckon the bags block the machines that 'chip' up the bottles etc)., they should have solved that by now - or use paper like in the US. FFS any sad bullshit to drag us all down, unless real life wasn't enough. pedants! If there are spelling mistakes, I probably know and couldn't give a big shit.
  • derby_k
    @Hank veins - can you give a little shit instead? Think of all the poor starving illiterate children in Mozambique who never even learnt English?
  • Tim
    Convenience is the problem. I do far less big shops these days and tend to just drop into a shop as I'm passing when I need things. I don't plan for this and don't have bags for life ready for it. I refuse to pay for any more bags for life as have bought loads of them. I don't carry them with me in my pocket if I'm out walking. They also tend to get used for other things and ultimately destroyed by their use or to deliver items to other people and they keep the bag. In the car I try to keep some in there, but then they get taken into the house and typically forget to dump them back in the car later. Besides that, claims of they don't degrade for 1000s of years, yet many modern plastic bags are designed now to degrade far quicker, and what's a 1000 years anyway? Nothing in the lifespan of the earth. Where do they go? Landfill, could stick trillions of the things in landfill and they'd only cover a tiny spec on the planet if compressed down. Could possibly recycle them as some other form of plastic. There are millions of more important things to be concerned about and plastic bags aren't going to be the end of the world.
  • Simon
    Why Not develop a disposable plastic bag that can be recycled and then everyone will be happy
  • Grumpy
    I best stock up on the shitey things now then...
  • Mark C.
    I try to carry at least one bag for life around with me, but even if I don't have one, I'll quite often get a new one because they're much easier to carry shopping in than regular carrier bags, and far less prone to breaking. However it seems to me that a lot of the supermarkets have backed away from offering them - when they were first launched, they were at every till, but now in my local Tesco they're tucked away in a hard to find area, the nearby Sainsbury's doesn't seem to do them at all, and only Morrisons seems to offer a full range including decent bottle carriers (quite like that these are also recycled from old plastic bottles). I would really appreciate it, however, if local councils took away carrier bags with the other recycling. They take the bags away that tins, bottles, etc are separated in, so presumably they're doing *something* with them. Oh, and I don't find so much problem with supermarket carriers, which I use instead of kitchen bin bags these days, as most of the other shop ones, which are often not a suitable size, and which it is very difficult to avoid being given.
  • Josie
    Bags should still be provided for things like books which may get wet without some sort of cover. The bag tax covers all retailers and not just supermarkets - so that's all the plastic bag manufacturers going out of business as well then........ Why can't we go back to the paper carrier bags which supermarkets first used back in the 70s? They were just as substantial - IIRC I managed to use them more than once!
  • Alexis
    I'm glad Sainsburys stopped their stupid policy of the checkout girl asking how many bags you wanted and then doling them out. Caused massive queues and who knows how many bags they'll need before starting packing? That was an absurd 2 weeks.
  • Dick
    I reckon you should pay 10p per bag or take the plastic bag challenge. If you can put a plastic bag over your head for one minute with it tied around the neck, then you get it for free. That should (i) make some extra income for the supermarkets, (ii) increase reuse of plastic bags and (iii) get rid of some lower life scum / poor people / asthmatics, thus saving on the social and NHS costs.
  • Thea
    Well, paying for 10p per bag unarguably feels much lighter than seeing hundreds of people suffering from our neglect and lack of respect for mother nature which was freely given for our heart's delight...
  • Fred
    This has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with another tax and the pc crowd will love it thinking they are saving the earth If they where that worried about the earth instead of this tax they would pass a law that bags have to be made out of products that degrade promptly I always use the free bags and instead of using black bags in the house i use carrier bags so what i waste on carriers i save on black bags take that pc hippies
  • CM
    I'm rarely surprised by the stupidity, thoughtlessness and plain selfishness of comments on anything to do with helping this planet survive. We've got them all here: Tim: "Where do they go? Landfill, could stick trillions of the things in landfill and they’d only cover a tiny spec on the planet if compressed down." Local authorities up and down the country are running out of landfill sites, plus they stink and I'll bet you wouldn't be impressed if they put one upwind of you. Plus 7 BILLION bags in a single year is not an insignificant number. The first disposable nappies used in this country are still rotting away, and we've had 70 years more of them, increasing year upon year. Alexis: "On the rare occasion I shop at M&S, I just use the self service checkout, tell the machine I don’t want any bags and then just take as many as I need." And you are the very reason charging 10p a time SHOULD be introduced. Shooter McGavin : "Who gives a **** about saving nearly SIX BILLION bags a year? " Well you should - those bags block rivers and sewers (potential flood risk), blow across roads (potential crash hazard) and as they very slowly rot, they give off harmful gases that taxpayers money is spent dealing with. It's like arguing graffiti is art - it isn't, if it costs to remove it.
  • Checkout c.
    oliverreed - small retailers are exempt from the tax (at least I believe they are in foreign lands like Wales and Northern Ireland). The rise in usage comes from supermarkets being "clever" and reducing the size of carrier bags. So instead of fitting 5 items into a single bag, now you can only fit in 1 item. Go to self-service, scan your items and your clubcard, when it asks how may of your own bags you've used, key in 100. Bonus club card points a plenty and you can head over to Alton Towers forthwith.
  • dvdj
    @CM - A bag blwoing across the road is a crash hazzard? Really? Think about it. "Oh noes there's a bag blowing across the road it could be filled with kittens and/or children with orthopedic shoes lets swerve in to the mother and child on the pavement!!!!1" Get a grip women (I'm assuming you're a women based on your comments). Can only echo previous comments. There's more important things to worry about at the moment, I got on to the bag for life game a while ago and bought loads but I just forget them all the time, and there's no why on earth I'm walking round with bin liners in my pocket like some hobo Irish gypsy!
  • RichTE
    Wow! I love all these comments! But seriously guys, how could anyone not support reducing the number of plastic carrier bags we throw away? Get the fuck over it. We all thought recycling was a pain in the arse at first but people obsess about that stuff now. People will unite in not wanting to give Tescos 5p for a bag, or whatever. Local shops will still have them and thats where I get mine (for usings as a kitchen bin liner). Over here in Wales we get free black binliners, free large green plastic bags (all recycling items) and a host of others.. inc prescriptions (dig dig). Over in Bristol (UK) they have a whole high street (just up from where Tesco Riots were) that has adopted a very similar approch. People caught on quick and got used to taking bags/backpacks or whatever. The shops and the customers were fine with it. It does put a sting in impulse buying though. @Checkout is closed - Nice tip! subnote - All the free shit in the World wouldnt make Wales worth moving to.
  • the d.
    derby_k All the poor starving illiterate children in Mozambique who never even learnt English are probably dead by now but your comments remain ... how funny
  • gratis c.
    Hallo, Deze post is super goed geschreven! Als ik door je site lees denk ik aan een oude vriend van me, hij praatte hier ook altijd over. Ik zal dit bericht aan hem geven, misschien heeft ie er wat aan. Bedankt voor het delen!

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