The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) has called for the single-use plastic bag levy in England – intended to be implemented 2015 – to be brought forward early, saying evidence from the implementation in Wales and Northern Ireland show it works.
In EFRA’s Departmental Annual Report 2012-13, the Committee has urged that England implement its levy on single use plastic bags earlier than 2015.
Supermarkets in 2012 gave out 8bn single-use carrier bags across the UK, the Government estimates, equating to approximately 120 bags per person.
While the use of these plastic carrier bags in England has increased since 2010, the Republic of Ireland cut usage dramatically after charges were introduced in 2002.
A similar charge in Northern Ireland has reduced carrier bag usage since April 2013, and supermarkets in Wales reported a drop in use of up to 76 percent after a charging scheme was brought in two years ago.
“We are disappointed that the charge will not come into effect in England until 2015, despite evidence of its success in reducing plastic carrier bag usage in other parts of the UK and Ireland”
In September 2013, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced that the Government would bring forward charges in England for single-use bags given out by supermarkets. The charge will not include re-usable “Bags for Life” or paper bags. Nor will it apply to organisations with fewer than 250 employees.
The Committee asked the Secretary of State why it took so long to reach this decision for England. He said he was being cautious and wanted to see the results elsewhere first. He continued: “We have gone for the charge, which has led to remarkable reductions in Wales and in Northern Ireland. They are a blight on land and they are certainly a blight when they get into any waterway or into the sea.”
The Secretary of State then told the Committee that he would like to see the development of a genuine biodegradable bag, which was compostable, saying that the current generation of biodegradable plastic bags did not fully “break down to the molecule” and therefore was still harmful to the marine environment.
The Department has since launched a call for evidence about the type of plastic bag, which will be exempt from the charge; how best to tell people about the charge; and how to make sure that organisations are applying the charge.
The Committee has encouraged industry to follow-up on the Secretary of State’s desire to see the development of a genuine biodegradable plastic bag, which can be used to carry shopping.
“We are pleased that the Government has finally agreed to impose a charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in supermarkets and larger food retailers,” the Committee said in its report. “However, we are disappointed that the charge will not come into effect in England until 2015, despite evidence of its success in reducing plastic carrier bag usage in other parts of the UK and Ireland.
“Reducing the number of single-use carrier bags that are given away is a quick win: reducing both waste and environmental pollution with little effort. While we would welcome the development of a fully biodegradable shopping bag to replace existing plastic bags, this should not be a condition for the introduction of the charge. Given the evidence elsewhere, we recommend the early introduction of the charge. When fully degradable plastic bags are available, these should be exempt from any charge.”