Two weeks into the English tax on single use carrier bags in supermarkets, ninety percent of shoppers are still heading out for their weekly shop forgetting their reusable bags.
With millions of carriers still being issued by major stores every day, one national waste and management company is posing the difficult question: Is the carrier bag tax high enough?
The BigGreen.co.uk waste prevention company says that the first weeks of the tax has seen shoppers use all sort of ingenious tactics to avoid the tax, all to avoid paying just five pence. “In the great scheme of things, five pence is just chicken feed,” says Big Green‘s Johnny Ratcliffe. “That kind of small change in just a minor inconvenience to most people.”
That’s why Big Green is suggesting an early increase in the tax, as the company is convinced that English shoppers won’t end their plastic habit unless bags are made truly undesirable. “We get through 7 billion plastic bags every year, and that number’s not going to go down unless people genuinely switch to reusable bags.”
Big Green asked over 1,500 shoppers about how their habits have changed in the first week of the 5p charge, and found:
– 89% forgot their reusable bags, or didn’t have bags to begin with
– 11% brought bags with them
– 73% paid 5p per bag for one or more single-use bags
– 21% bought reusable plastic or hessian bags at the till
– 6% used no bags at all, or improvised
Figures released earlier this year show how successful the policy has been in other parts of the UK where the bag tax has been a reality for one or more years.
– Scottish plastic bag use has decreased by 130 million bags, or around 80%
– In Wales, plastic bag use has dropped by 71%, with overall bag use dropping by 57%
– Plastic bag use has dropped from 190 million bags to 30 million per year in Northern Ireland
But to make the policy a success, English shoppers have to be convinced to reuse their bags, or somehow get their shopping home without using bags at all. With the first news stories about shoppers refusing to pay the tax hitting the media, Business Waste has heard tales of people resorting to improvisation to get their groceries home without the use of bags, some more successful than others:
– Some shoppers are packing their groceries into cardboard boxes, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of supermarkets when used boxes weren’t sent to the crusher
– Another person was seen improvising a rucksack out of their coat, just to get their shopping out to the car park
– One checkout worker witnessed a grown man putting his shopping into (unused) dog poo bags produced from the customer’s pockets
– Another said they had seen families unloading trollies directly into the back of their cars, presumably to relay everything into the house once they got home
“And that’s just to save five pence per bag – or about ten quid a year for the average family,” says Big Green’s Johnny Ratcliffe, who hopes more people come up with alternative ways of getting their goods home to get the message across that saving resources is a good thing.
“But from what we’ve heard, the huge, huge majority of people are still putting their hands in their pockets and paying out the 5p,” he says, and that’s why he feels the charge has been set far too low. That being the case, it looks like we’re resistant as a country to such a small charge, and that’s why it should be at least 20p – or perhaps even higher.”
But the way ahead is simple for English shoppers: Be like the rest of the UK and remember your reusable bags.
“While it’s great that 4p per bag is going to charity, the kindest thing you can do is help save the planet by using fewer throwaway bags.”