5p bag charge unveiled – but at what cost?
The government has rolled out the new scheme forcing large retailers to charge for providing single use bags to customers in England. This initiative has already been in place in other parts of the UK, such as Wales, for some time now and has proven to have had a significant impact on waste, recycling and litter.
However, there are some concerns that it might have a negative impact on waste disposal in the home.
The new legislation
According to government figures, in 2014 a total of 7.6 billion plastic bags were handed out in England by the big supermarkets alone.
Under the new rules, retailers who have 250 employees or more will be forced to charge 5p for every single use bag their customers use.
Although this initiative will be used to raise money for charity rather than provide retailers with profit, it’s proven to be an unpopular decision for some of shoppers in the country.
Environmentalists on the other hand believe the change is positive, and would like to see it extended further to include small shops and businesses, so that there are no exclusions. Plastic cause not just problems with waste disposal and littering, but also can be lethal if they end up as marine pollution, harming wildlife.
In Wales where the 5p bag charge has been mandatory for some time, the use of plastic bags plunged by 70% in the first three years the new rules were in place.
The government is hoping that similar results will be seen in England, targeting an 80% decrease in supermarkets and a 50% drop for high street stores.
If the numbers fall as expected, around £730 million will be raised for charity, land fill waste will be reduced and street litter cleaning costs will fall by £60 million.
Not all shopping will be subjected to the new 5p levy as the government has granted a number of allowable exceptions.
Only shops that have the equivalent of 250 full time employees will be forced to charge for their bags, smaller shops are currently excused from the new legislation.
In addition, shops at airports or on trains, as well as goods which require bags for safety purposes such as raw meat or fish (or other food products which should be covered or wrapped for health reasons), blades, prescription medicines, bulbs or seeds and live fish. Paper bags are also excluded from the levy.
Impact on domestic waste disposal?
Although the plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and other retailers are marketed as single use, many customers used them as bin liners in the home.
Now faced with the choice between paying for multiple bags, or going without, there are concerns about whether everyone will be keen to fork out for black bin bags.
This could mean an increase in waste being placed in bins for waste collection without being bagged, leaving bins smelly, dirty and unpleasant.
And some consumers are angry that they are the ones being left to pick up the bill for plastic bags, with manufacturers and retailers free to continue to use excess packaging on a far greater scale. Some customers have suggested that their bins have far fewer plastic bags than unnecessary plastic packaging in, and believe that the government is targeting the wrong market.
This view is backed up by the UK Packaging and Film Association who believe the change should have been used as an opportunity to promote recycling and re-use. The CEO, Barry Turner, suggested that plastic bags form a very small proportion of the litter in the UK, and that the emphasis should have been on tackling other types of litter and the need to recycle.