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
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