Talk­ing Point: plas­tic bags

Two years on from the in­tro­duc­tion of the 5p plas­tic bag charge, we look at its im­pact and how money from the charge has been spent

YOURS (UK) - - Inside - By Katharine Woot­ton

It seems so nat­u­ral now to ei­ther dig out your own Bag For Life or, if you’ve left it in the car, pay 5p for a plas­tic bag at the check­out. It’s been two years since the gov­ern­ment first re­quired all large shops in Eng­land to charge for non-re­us­able car­rier bags. The aim was to try to bring down Bri­tain’s stag­ger­ing plas­tic con­sump­tion and the dam­ag­ing ef­fects this was hav­ing on lit­ter and wildlife, which can get caught in plas­tic waste.

So, has it worked?

In terms of re­duc­ing plas­tic bag use, yes. Since the levy was put in place in Eng­land in Oc­to­ber 2015 – bring­ing us in line with ex­ist­ing bag taxes in Wales, Scot­land and Northern Ire­land – the num­ber of bags used has fallen by more than 80 per cent. That’s at least nine bil­lion fewer plas­tic bags po­ten­tially go­ing into land­fill. There’s also been a drop of nearly 50 per cent in the num­ber of plas­tic bags found lit­ter­ing beaches.

Where is my 5p go­ing?

You may re­mem­ber when the scheme started that shops were to do­nate the 5p to ‘green’ good causes, which they must then re­port to DE­FRA. How­ever, DE­FRA’s re­cent ac­counts re­veal that while a lot of money has gone to char­i­ties, it’s not as much as you might think. Tesco – which sells the most plas­tic bags of all the su­per­mar­kets – re­cently came un­der fire for de­duct­ing mil­lions of pounds for ad­min­is­tra­tion costs. The latest statis­tics show in the 12 months up to March 2017 Tesco sold 637 mil­lion car­rier bags, rais­ing £31.9 mil­lion, but gave only £23.14 mil­lion of that to good causes. Of the re­main­ing amount, £5.3 mil­lion went to the Trea­sury for VAT and £3.4 mil­lion was pock­eted for ad­min, equiv­a­lent to more than 10 per cent of the to­tal pro­ceeds. While claim­ing ‘rea­son­able costs’ for ad­min­is­tra­tion is al­lowed in the rules set out by the gov­ern­ment two years ago, no other ma­jor su­per­mar­ket de­ducted ad­min fees. Dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies how­ever, did, in­clud­ing WH Smith who kept £76,000 of the £206,000 raised for ad­min costs. In to­tal in the last year more than £66 mil­lion was do­nated to good causes from bag sales, with £33 mil­lion go­ing to char­i­ties lo­cal to the stores.

Should more be done?

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion re­mains a huge prob­lem with a re­cent study re­veal­ing al­most 75 per cent of Euro­pean drink­ing wa­ter is now con­tam­i­nated by plas­tic par­ti­cles. While the levy did bring us in line with other coun­tries, many are do­ing far more to com­bat the prob­lem. Western Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, has vowed to ban all sin­gle-use car­rier bags by July 2018. In Kenya, any­one pro­duc­ing, sell­ing or us­ing plas­tic bags risks up to four years im­pris­on­ment or a hefty charge. As for the UK, the latest shift is that Tesco are now un­der­tak­ing tri­als around the coun­try to scrap the 5p charge. In­stead cus­tomers who for­get their own bags will only be of­fered the op­tion of a 10p re­us­able bag. What do you think? Is enough be­ing done? Write to us at the ad­dress on p3

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