Plastic shopping bag levy in Queen’s speech

Legislation for a 5p levy on plastic shopping bags in England was announced in the Queen’s speech today (4 June).

plastic bags

 It is due to come into effect in autumn 2015.

The Queen said in her speech: “My government will… reduce the use of plastic carrier bags to help protect the environment.”

The plan, aimed at reducing litter and protecting the environment, was announced at the Lib Dem conference last year and follows a similar scheme in Wales were there has been a minimum charge of 5p on all single use carrier bags since 1 October 2011. Northern Ireland followed in 2013.

The introduction if a bag charge has already been approved by the Scottish parliament. The regulations will bring in mandatory charging for almost all single-use carrier bags from October.

While many are backing the bag charges across the UK, some packaging industry leaders have voiced concerns about its implementation, believing that figures relating to litter, upon which the introduction of the levy was based, are inaccurate. Some also feel that issues such as public health have been ignored.

Martin Kersh, executive director, Foodservice Packaging Association told Packaging News he was dissapointed with the inclusion of the proposed compulsory charge on plastic bags.

“The Foodservice Packaging Association has lobbied the minister, Dan Rogerson, for an exemption for bags irrespective of material used by the takeaway sector to contain partially wrapped ready to eat foodservice items in order to protect the public’s health. There is much evidence to prove that the reuse of a bag for ready to eat food raises the risk of bacterial contamination with pathogens multiplying so endangering public health. We will continue to campaign for this exemption as the protection of the public’s health is our top priority.

“The contribution of plastic bags to the UK’s litter problem is negligible and while we support initiatives to reduce litter such initiatives must be directed towards changing public behaviour, ensuring enforcement sand improved collection and more opportunities to dispose correctly on the go . The danger of this charge is that it sets a precedent for charges on other forms of packaging in the name of litter again based on perception rather than fact. Material choice must also be left in the hands of specifiers and not determined by legislation.

The Government says money raised from the charge will go to charity and not to government but some feel that environmental benefits the levy might offer shouldn’t stop at plastic bag re-use.

Johnathan Short, founder and deputy chairman of ECO Plastics, a UK  re-processor of post consumer recyclable plastic, said: “Revenue from the 5p plastic bag charge should be invested in a public awareness campaign to increase household recycling across the UK for the economic and environmental benefit of local communities. Recycled waste is valuable and communities should be benefiting from it, yet the greatest barrier to effective recycling is still public confusion about what can and cannot be recycled.

“Research shows that people recycle more when they understand what can be recycled, where it goes, what it becomes and how it benefits the local community. A crystal clear communications campaign to get this information to every household is essential if we are to drive up recycling rates and meet our national recycling targets. ECO Plastics urges the revenue to be invested in projects like Recoup’s ‘Plastics Please’ campaign, set to launch later this year, and get Britain recycling more.”

Barry Turner, chief executive of the Packaging and Films Association (PAFA), is of a similar opinion when it comes to using the money from the levy.

“We are disappointed that disputed litter figures and wildly inaccurate calculations on bag impacts are still influencing people’s views,” he said.

“We also believe that if we are to suffer a carrier bag tax, the monies should be used to boost recycling and to educate consumers. These are missed opportunities for supporting the UK recycling industry and changing habits on littering.”

Andrea Di Stefano, public affairs manager at bioplastics firm Novamont, argued that compostable bags should be more freely available.

“In Wales, the plastic bag charge reduced annual consumption of single-use bags by 76%. While this is a firm nudge, it is not a knockout blow. Similar reductions in England would still mean approximately 2bn single-use plastic bags sold annually. Given less than 4% of current carrier bags are recycled this will still mean a high number ending up in landfill or polluting the environment and compost.

“On the other hand, home compostable bags, which meet the EN13432, AS5810 and the Vincotte OK Home Compost standards, not only break down completely and harmlessly in the natural environment within 40 weeks but their distribution has shown to dramatically reduce the volume of food waste going to landfill; this saves local government money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. We hope that a more intelligent charging regime is adopted, which could create a level playing field between single-use plastic bags and compostable bags. This would give retailers the chance to promote the use of compostable bags as an alternative to traditional plastics.”


One comment

  1. While not a surprise, this move again emphasises the attraction on focusing on the wrong thing and sets a dangerous precedent: It is littering that should be tackled ie public behaviour and not what is littered. Also where do we go next, cigarretes, paper hankies, chewing gum, drinks cans, plastic bottles ….?