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5p charge on plastic bag is ‘a mess’, says committee



Government proposals to introduce a charge on plastic carrier bags in shops, in order to reduce plastic pollution, have been criticised by MPs and green groups who say they are too complicated and lack ambition.

The environmental audit committee has said that the introduction of a 5p charge has been messed up by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The measure in fact would exclude small retailers, paper and biodegradable bags from the charge, which according to the committee leads to confusion and ineffectiveness.

Chair of the committee, Joan Walley MP, said, “Ministers have managed to make a complete mess of their planned carrier bags charge by making it unnecessarily complicated. Carrier bags litter our streets and harm wildlife, and the government is right to want to reduce their use.

“But Defra seems to have made decisions about the design of this scheme that were based more on wishful thinking than hard evidence.”

Walley noted that paper and biodegradable bags could have an equally negative impact on the environment, while small retailers opposed their exemption, as they said it could distort competition and cause confusion for businesses and consumers.

Samantha Harding, manager of the Stop the Drop campaign for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, commented, “If the government is serious about having a charging scheme that will equal the success of those in Wales and Ireland then it has to urgently review its current proposals.

“Without a change in policy the exemptions in place could limit the effectiveness of the scheme, confuse consumers and exclude small retailers from the benefits the charge will bring to the large supermarkets.

Over 8 billion disposable carrier bags are used in England every year – equivalent to 130 bags per person. In Wales, where a charge has been placed on all types of bags, the figure is down to 22 bags per person per year.

Further reading:

Thames rubbish could devastate ecosystems, research finds

Microplastic intoxicates marine wildlife, new study finds

Study: plastic pollution not limited to oceans

Shoppers to be charged 5p for plastic bags