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Plastic bag charge in England ‘unnecessarily complicated’

Plans for a 5p charge on disposable carrier bags must be kept simple if the scheme is to work, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has stated in a new report.

The MPs criticised current government plans as “a complete mess” for including exemptions for small retailers and the option to provide free paper and biodegradable bags. This would confuse consumers and be less effective than the scheme introduced in Wales, where the charge applies to all disposable bags. The country has reduced its bag use by over 75%.

Including biodegradable bags could threaten the viability of recycling by contaminating waste streams and recycled products, and could still cause litter and harm wildlife before they degrade.

The committee called for all retailers to be included in the scheme.

As well as the revenue raised by the charge, the VAT raised from the scheme should also go to charity or environmental causes, the EAC suggested.

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.

“Biodegradable bags are not as green as they first sound. We heard that they can do as much harm to wildlife as normal plastic bags and could cause big problems for the UK recycling industry, which would have trouble separating and processing the different material.

“Experience from Ireland and Wales shows these schemes are popular and can make a real difference. Before the government reaches the check-out with this policy, it needs to drop the exemptions and keep it simple to help shoppers do the right thing. This needn’t be difficult– simple schemes in Wales and Ireland have dramatically reduced bag use, and had positive environmental impact. It’s not too late to start listening and to re-think these flawed plans.”

Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Phil Barton said: “When, in autumn last year, the government announced its plans to introduce a charge in England, they did so proposing to exclude paper and biodegradable bags and said that smaller retailers will also be excluded.

“Along with campaigners including Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Surfers Against Sewage and the Marine Conservation Society, we expressed our concerns that having these exclusions from the charge would mean that there was a real danger that it wouldn’t reduce the numbers of single use bags.

“We are delighted today that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has agreed with us and are calling for the charge to be implemented with no exemptions.

“This is great news and now the ball is firmly in the government’s court who now need to implement the charge as soon and as simply as possible so that communities in England can start benefiting from a positive measure that will improve the environment just like it has done in Wales.”

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Image c. Benjamin Wright/PA Wire


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