Plastic carrier bags

The proposed carrier bag charge for England is ‘unnecessarily complicated’, the Environment Audit Committee of MPs has said

Plans to introduce a 5p charge for plastic bags in England are a “complete mess”, an influential committee of MPs has said.

The Environment Audit Committee said today plans to introduce the charge in 2015 were “unnecessarily complicated” because of the planned exemption for biodegradable bags and businesses with fewer than 250 employees.

The committee’s report called for the charge to copy the system used in Wales, where a 5p charge was introduced in 2011 covering all types of disposable carrier bag and all retailers. This has since cut plastic bag use across the country by 75%.

“Defra seems to have made decisions about the design of this scheme that were based more on wishful thinking than hard evidence,” said committee chair Joan Walley MP.

“Defra seems to have made decisions about the design of this scheme that were based more on wishful thinking than hard evidence”

Joan Walley MP

“Exemptions for small retailers and paper and biodegradable bags make it confusing for consumers, potentially harmful for the recycling industry, and less effective than the Welsh scheme.”

The calls have been welcomed by the ACS, which opposes the exemption for smaller retailers and has called on Defra to include small shops in the scheme.

“Retailers in Wales have seen significant benefits from the levy that has been in place since 2011, both through saving money and being able to play a greater part in their community,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman.

“We urge the government to listen to the recommendations of the Environmental Audit Committee and ensure that convenience stores are not left out of the carrier bag charge.”

The NFRN and the BRC also oppose exemptions for smaller businesses, on the grounds that it will distort competition and cause confusion for businesses and consumers.

“This is a sensible report that clears up some of the confusion around this issue,” said the BRC’s Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability. “We agree that to get the biggest benefit for the environment, and to help shoppers understand the scheme, government should drop the exemptions and keep it simple.”

Under the proposals, money raised from the 5p charge will be donated to charity – a move the ACS says will benefit smaller retailers, which will be able to forge stronger links with local communities.