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5p Carrier Bags: Thoroughly Commendable or Total Con?


We’re willing to bet money that every household in England has a plastic bag full of plastic bags on hand to use for packed lunches, cleaning, and other general household duties – or at least they used to.

On October 5th 2015, the government took a step towards a greener Britain when they introduced the 5p carrier bag charge for all retailers in England with more than 250 employees. We know what you’re thinking, 5p is hardly going to break the bank – but that hasn’t stopped much debate over the new measure’s utility.

First off, small retailers, and paper bags, are exempt from the 5p carrier bag charge – this caused the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee last year to call last year’s plans for the levy ‘a complete mess’, warning that consumers would just be confused by the exemptions and the effectiveness of the levy would be undermined.

British people are known for their opposition to change, and seemingly this situation is no different; a survey of more than 2,000 people commissioned by Break the Bag Habit coalition – which includes the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Keep Britain Tidy among others – found that 38% of people in England found the 5p charge to be unreasonable!

But could this be one of those cases where change should be embraced?

Let’s examine the facts. First off, how many of the 8.3 billion supermarket plastic bags given out each year are actually recycled? Shockingly, it’s only 1% – meaning the rest are left to decompose in landfill sites, endanger wild life and cause serious harm to our environment. Not to mention the fact that polyethylene (PE), a non-renewable oil is rapidly running out – and all to make bird-poisoning, fish-choking, atmosphere destroying plastic bags.

If you’re still not convinced that the 5p charge is a good idea, there’s even a ‘Good Samaritan’ angle to the argument; all money raised from the sale of plastic bags will go to charity. So before you moan about that potential extra 20p spent on your food shop, think about the fact that your little bit of lose change is expected to raise a staggering £70 million for good causes.

5p doesn’t sound like such an inconvenience now, does it?

Even if you’re of the ‘every little helps’ mentality and really resent the extra charge, ‘Bags for Life’ are available at 10p each – and will be replaced free of charge when they’ve carried one shop too many..

Granted, having to remember to bring Bags for Life with you every time you go shopping may be difficult now, but speaking from experience, once it’s a habit, it will be hard to break. Leave some in the front seat of your car, or fold one up and carry it around in your handbag – the possibilities are endless.

And for the sceptical amongst you, there have already been proven results in Scotland and Wales since the charge has been introduced; the amount of plastic bags provided to shoppers has been significantly reduced.

Jim Griffiths, minister for natural resources in Wales, said: “People in Wales have adapted extremely well to our 5p carrier bag charge which was introduced in October 2011 and supermarkets across Wales are full of people reusing shopping bags. These latest figures show that consumption of carrier bag use in Wales has reduced by 79% since 2010, and this really is an excellent result, however there is no room for complacency.”

Perhaps we should stop debating the efficacy of the 5p carrier bag charge, and start accepting and, indeed, actively participating.

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