Carrier bag tax backed to improve the environment ahead of launch

The Government is introducing a five pence carrier bag tax on Monday in a bid to reduce the impact the plastic bags have on the environment
The Government is introducing a five pence carrier bag tax on Monday in a bid to reduce the impact the plastic bags have on the environment

LARGE retailers will face heavy fines if they do not charge customers for carrier bags when a new law comes into play on Monday.

As part of a Government policy to reduce waste, a minimum charge of five pence will be placed on single-use carrier bags.

According to ‘the scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags’.

The move has been welcomed by public figures across West Sussex.

Worthing’s Green Party councillor James Doyle said: “I think it’s a good move. It’s something that will hopefully nudge people into thinking about what they normally do without thinking. We produce billions of carrier bags every year, but it’s not just the production. They are pretty indestructible, you see them around the undergrowth. I think we will be better off if we can reduce that as much as possible.”

Mr Doyle said the 5 pence charge was ‘probably about the right level’ and that it could perhaps be revised when it had been up and running for a period of time.

He added: “I don’t think it’s going to penalise people too much if they don’t have any other option. It’s to push people in the right direction.”

Only companies with 250 or more employees are required to implement the charge. However, small and medium-sized employers can implement a charge on a voluntary basis.

If a company fails to uphold the carrier bag tax it will either be fined or the local authority can impose non-monetary punishments, such as making them publicise that they’ve breached the law.

Failure to comply with the law could lead to a fine of up to £5,000, in addition to any other penalties.

Fines will be reduced by half if paid within 28 days but increased by half if not paid within 56 days.

Despite this, Richard Sargeant, West Sussex County Council’s team manager – operations team, Trading Standards Service, said: “We expect very little impact on our resources into this area.

“We are an intelligence led service that prioritises protecting the vulnerable issues e.g. doorstep crime, illicit tobacco and alcohol, and therefore we will unlikely to be carrying out routine inspection just for this piece of legislation but will risk assess any complaints we receive about such issues.”

Figures on claim over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England in 2014, which equates to around 140 bags per person and is equivalent to 61,000 tonnes in total.

On average a plastic bag will take 450 years to naturally decompose, meaning they pose environmental problems for a longer period of time than any other type of bag.

Rod Thick, from Transition Town Worthing, said: “I think it’s a good idea to bring it in. What we are concerned about is all the plastic waste that gets into the water course and into the sea.

“There’s an island in the Pacific Ocean about the size of Texas made up of plastic. All the plastic waste gets into the food chain through the fish and we are very concerned about this.

“Personally, I think it’s a positive way forward, but I would like to have seen more like 20p to have any effect. I think it could have been a bit higher. I think people should be made aware of what the problem is,”

Transition Town Worthing carried out a survey in Montague Street last month to gauge the public’s knowledge of plastic bag littering and to raise awareness around it.

Mr Thick said: “Many people weren’t aware of what sort of environmental impact plastic bags have. I think one of the worst things is if you go into a supermarket they more or less put one in front of you.”

Despite research showing that the average household already has 40 plastic bags around the home, the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014.

The Government said it expects to see a ‘significant reduction’ in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge – by as much as 80 per cent in supermarkets and 50 per cent on the high street.

Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme in Wales saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79 per cent in its first three years.

Paul Dendle, Arun District Council cabinet member for leisure and amenities, said: “I think it’s going to be helpful. I know people might see it as quite prescriptive nanny state, but where it has been used in places like Wales, it’s been proven a very positive measure for controlling waste and litter.

“I think it’s enough to deter people from wasting carrier bags and small enough not to impact too much on people’s pockets. I think it’s about right.”

Over the next ten years the Government said it believed the benefits of the scheme will include over £780 million to the UK economy; up to £730 million raised for good causes; £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs; and carbon savings of £13 million.

Sharon Clarke, Worthing Town Centre Initiative manager, said: “From the feedback I’m getting the businesses have been planning for it and they are prepared for it. They want to encourage people to get their reusable bags.

“Some of our fashion type shops think some of their customers in the early stages might not like it when they’re spending £40 or £50 on an item and then being charged for a bag, but the thing is everyone’s got to do it. No one’s getting a consumer advantage.

“Us as Worthing Town Centre Initiative hand out our free I Love Sunny Worthing bags at our events, so we try and help by doing that. Unless you start taxing people they won’t change their habits. It’s very easy to walk into a shop and get a bag, but if there’s a charge you start to think. Probably the only way you’re going to do it is with a financial implication.”

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