Today in the Lords Baroness Parminter will ask the Government whether it has plans for a mandatory charge for plastic bags in England. Here she explains why it should – and immediately
We use 6.4bn single-use carrier bags in UK supermarkets a year. Plastic bags are highly visible litter on our streets and in our countryside, pose a threat to wildlife and their disposal contributes to our green house gas (GHG) emissions, taking 500 to 1,000 years to degrade.
Following the introduction of a charge in 2002 in the Republic of Ireland plastic bag use fell by 90% and raised millions in revenue. Wales introduced an equally successful charge for plastic bags in 2011 and Northern Ireland brought in a 5p tax just last month.
At a time of tight budgets, some may feel uneasy about asking people to pay more when they go shopping. But if shoppers take their own bags they don’t have to pay. Moreover, shoppers are already paying the substantial hidden costs of retailers buying and storing and local authorities disposing of these ‘free’ bags.
After years of declining usage, the number of plastic bags used in the UK started to increase again in 2010. The Government is working with retailers to educate the public and reduce plastic bag use in shops. But we are still using on average eight bags a month per person in this country. Not every retailer is signed up to the voluntary Courtauld Agreement to reduce waste and they freely admit they won’t do any more unilaterally to cut plastic bag use. Businesses rightly argue for a level playing field – and yet now have plastic bag charges for shoppers in Ireland and Wales but not England.
Successful schemes around the world have removed billions of plastic bags from circulation and raised valuable funds. More than that, a plastic bag tax here would raise the national consciousness about the role each one of us can and must play if we are to tackle collectively the problems of litter and respond to the challenge of climate change.
Introducing a charge on plastic bags does not require new legislation – there are provisions to introduce regulations to do so in the Climate Change Act 2008. I welcome the fact that the Coalition Government are committed to moving towards a zero waste economy by 2020. But the pace of progress is too slow. Liberal Democrats supported a motion I introduced at Conference last year calling for the introduction of a levy on single-use plastic bags with the money supporting local charities and local community food initiatives. It is now time to deal with these icons of a throwaway society.
Published and promoted by Tim Gordon on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, both at LDHQ, 8-10 Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AE.