England is the only country in the UK and its other nearby neighbours that is holding out against a 5p levy on single-use carrier bags for shoppers but how long can it go on in the face of environmentalist pressure and evidence of the success of a levy in Wales?
With plastic carrier bags accounting for the majority of marine waste and as a large and particularly visible contributor to UK waste Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have already imposed a 5p per bag levy. Scotland has announced that it may impose a similar levy in October 2014, but as yet there has been no firm commitment from England.
The Republic of Ireland’s carrier bag charge introduced in 2002 cut usage by 90 per cent within months. The 5p per bag charge introduced in Wales in October 2011 has brought a near 80% reduction in bags issued, and the Northern Ireland 5p levy introduced in April is thought likely to be having a similar effect.
Scotland, UK’s biggest per head carrier bag user has announced the likelihood of a 5p levy per bag in October 2014.
Despite the figures clearly demonstrating the success of a small levy in reducing the amount of single issue carrier bags issued in our shops Westminster is thought to have been lagging behind in its introduction of a similar levy in England due to fears of further antagonizing austerity hit shoppers.
The recent WRAP figures showing an increase in thin-gauge (single-use) bag usage to 8.1 billion in 2012 from 8 billion in 2011 have re-ignited interest in when a levy may be introduced in England.
Despite there being a reduction in amount of virgin polymer used in carrier bags, the weight of carrier bags and their usage in the UK, it is still important to remember that England is responsible for a massive 7.06 billion of the UK’s 8.1 billion thin-gauge carrier bags in 2012.
John Haken of UK based biodegradable and compostable food packaging supplier WF Denny comments:
“Whilst there is a proven need to preserve and distribute many food products in protective plastic packaging we in the UK are all too aware of the litter and environmental problems that plastic carrier bags can cause, and of course it’s great that practical ways to protect the environment are now being sought and found. I think it’s important to mention also that enormous progress towards this aim has also been made in many other areas of our food packaging. We supply biodegradable, compostable and eco-friendly packaging that is now being widely used across all industry sectors.
We all know about doorstep recycling and our local recycling centres which help mitigate the effect of many necessary plastic containers used in retail sales but many people may be surprised by just how much of the packaging we encounter in our daily lives is in fact now biodegradable and eco-friendly packaging. Businesses and consumers are increasingly environmentally aware – and that’s good news for all of us.”