Carrier bag

Plastic bags are a hot political topic. And headlines bemoaning the environmental impact of the 8 billion carrier bags that we get through annually are never far away – not least today, when carrier bags were back in the news following the publication of a damning report by the Environment Audit Committee.

The committee of MPs slated Defra’s plan to impose a carrier-bag charge in England in 2015 as a “complete mess”, saying it was “unnecessarily complicated” because it exempted biodegradable bags and businesses with fewer than 250 employees. It would rather England copied Wales’ model, implemented in 2011, which covers all disposable bags and has seen a 75% reduction in usage as a result.

Back when the government announced plans to introduce the English charge in September, the exemption for smaller businesses came as somewhat of a surprise – not least because they had never asked to be excluded in the first place. Ministers, campaigners and industry alike all agree that more must be done to kick the nation’s annual 70,000-tonne plastic bag habit.

The ACS backed the committee’s report whole-heartedly today, saying that including independent retailers in the scheme will not only reap environmental benefits but will enable shopkeepers to forge closer ties with local communities (because the sums raised will go to charity), as well as creating cost savings.

Yesterday, speaking at the ACS Responsible Retailing Forum in Manchester, Spar retailer Conrad Davies said implementing the charge at his Welsh stores had saved him £14,000 a year.

And Duncan Bowdler, trade liaison manager at The Co-operative Group, said it had achieved an 81% reduction in the use of carrier bags at stores in Wales and had seen costs go down because the Group is “not ordering as many carrier bags that you have to just give away free”.

“And we get good PR,” he added. “There’s a pot of money that our members have decided democratically [which charities the money goes to]. What’s not to like about that? I think it’s a really good initiative.”

Indeed. The Welsh model reduces the environmental impact of the industry, raises money for charity and saves retailers money all at the same time – not to mention being simple enough for everyone to wrap their heads around. What is there not to like?

Let’s hope Defra agrees.