This week I was super excited to see the introduction of the 5p charge for plastic bags in England, with the intention of significantly decreasing their use. It was also heartening to read in the Guardian that the English public are behind it with 62% in favour versus 25% against.
What is the problem with plastic bags?
I was shocked to discover that apparently we took home 7.6bn carrier bags last year, that’s about 140 per person! Research shows that the average household already has 40 plastic bags at home, yet the number of new plastic bags being used increased for the fifth year running in 2014.
Plastic bags can take 1000 years to degrade (yes 1000, it isn’t a typo). Not only are they bad for the environment but they can also harm wildlife. When seabirds, sea mammals or fish ingest plastic particles, it can block their guts and is likely to harm or even kill them. Besides, who likes seeing stray plastic bags blighting our streets and the countryside?
Will it really make a difference?
Some may argue that plastic bags only make up approximately 0.1% of total waste in the UK so why should we bother? However, I firmly believe that every small change helps and added together can make a significant difference. Beyond plastic bags there is the potential that the awareness this has created may encourage people to be more conscious about the amount of rubbish they create and help to increase the recycling rate.
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% in its first 3 years, so I’d say that’s pretty compelling evidence.
Some facts about the new legislation (courtesy of gov.uk)
Where will the money go? For each 5p charge, 0.83p goes to the Treasury in VAT. The government expects the rest to go to "good causes", and the retailer has the discretion of what cause to support. M&S has charged 5p for larger bags for the past eight years and gives its profits to WWF, the Marine Conservation Society and educational projects about marine life
What stores does this apply to? The law is obligatory for large retailers that have over 250 employees
Will high street stores be impacted as well as supermarkets? The charge applies to plastic bags that are 70 microns or less in thickness, since high street stores usually use sturdier plastic bags they will be participating on a voluntary basis. Paper bags are also exempt.
What are the expected benefits?
Overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy
Up to £730 million raised for good caus
£60 million savings in litter clean-up costs
Carbon savings of £13 million