Plastic bag charges commendable or confusing?

Recently in the news, there have been debates about the proposal for shops to charge for plastic bags in England. Over eight billion disposable carrier bags are used in England every year. While introducing a minimal charge is generally looked upon as a good thing, it also raises questions among businesses.

Plastic bagsCurrently, there is a charge for plastic bags in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with Scotland due to start charging this October. There are plans to introduce a charge in England for single-use plastic bags starting 2015, but there are a number of confusing caveats to this that could potentially give businesses a headache.

The plastic bag charge debate

Large companies, like the major supermarkets, will have to charge customers 5p per plastic bag, with the proceeds going to environmental charities. However, the proposals drawn up by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will exempt small and medium sized businesses and take-away outlets from the charge, plus exempt bio-degradable and paper bags. Other countries who have introduced the levy have not exempted these bags  it is for all single-use bags for clarity.

Companies, MPs and a Government committee all say that this is confusing. Recycle bagsShould the type of bag make a difference? Will there be a lot of extra admin for smaller companies who need to prove their exemption status? And what about the exemptions that will be within the exemptions?

Current plastic bag charge statistics:

  • Wales introduced a 5p charge in 2011. There are limited reporting requirements for firms with less than 10 employees. The number of bags being used has been reduced by 96% in some sectors
  • In Northern Ireland, a 5p charge was introduced in 2013. Usage has declined by 80% and the government plans to raise the levy to 10p because it is working so well
  • Scotland will introduce a 5p fee for bags in October this year
  • The Irish Republic introduced its 15 cent plastic bag tax in 2002. It has since gone up to 22 cents but it is estimated that there has been a 90% drop in single bag use

The Defra consultation finished in December, so watch this space for any further updates and clarification to the consultation.