Today’s headlines in the Daily Mail and the Mirror are predicting “chaos” with the new plastic bag charge. Even the less sensationalist BBC and Huffington Post are echoing this invented fear in the international press. Yet, today’s introduction of a 5p charge for plastic bags only serves to bring England in line with schemes already operating in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Indeed, the Republic of Ireland introduced such a levy way back in 2002 and far from being chaotic, Professor Frank Convery of University College Dublin has called Ireland’s plastic bag levy “the most popular tax in Europe” and believes that it would be politically damaging to remove it. Within five months of Ireland’s introduction of a national tax on non-biodegradable plastic bags , bag usage fell by over 90% . Litter on the streets was also greatly reduced.
UK shoppers waste gigantic quantities of thin-gauge plastic bags. It is estimated that last year alone 7.6 billion non-biodegradable, polyethylene bags were used last year by customers of UK supermarkets. That amounts to 23 million plastic bags per day. And cleaning up plastic bags amounts to £10 million per year in the UK. But the clean up is far larger thanthat, considering how much plastic ends up in our water supply and oceans.
So, if you have nearly got through this bag apocalypse day , you will be able to remember it fondly as the turning point when the English followed suit with the rest of the British Isles and put aprice tag on our thoughtless, wasteful use of plastic – temporary to us, near permanent in our oceans. Today marks the day the English switch away from throwaway carrier bags.
England's Environment Minister, Rory Stewart, said: "We're all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us next time we go to the shops…Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation – meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country."
Environmentalists have welcomed the move, which aims to prevent plastic bags ending up as litter or marine pollution where they can be harmful to wildlife, but have called for a more comprehensive scheme which includes all retailers and all types of bags. Under the new scheme, retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees will have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries; but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. As a result, campaigners warn that it may not be as successful as more comprehensive bag charging schemes brought in elsewhere in the UK, such as Wales where the number of bags handed out by retailers fell by 79% in the first three years.