We are now a couple of weeks into the latest legislation to encourage us all to up our game in terms of recycling. The latest initiative is of course the 5p charge for carrier bags which the government hopes will see an 80% reduction in the use of supermarket plastic bags and a 50% reduction on the High Street.
The legislation affects shoppers in England and brings us in to line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who have all been paying for carrier bags since 2014, 2011 and 2013 respectively.
The idea is to dissuade shoppers from accepting new bags each time they shop and instead re-use bags. It is easy to see why legislation is required; in 2014 in England 7.64 billion bags were handed out by supermarkets – an increase of 200 million on the previous year. In 2010 the figure stood at 6.3 billion.
Environmental charities have welcomed the initiative but point out that the new law only affects shops or chains with more than 250 full-time employees so there will still be a huge number of outlets giving out carrier bags for free. They believe there is still an awful lot that needs to be done to educate the public about the harm caused by carrier bags particularly to wildlife and the environment.
Even this initial step though is expected to save £60 million in litter clearing costs and £13 million in carbon savings. In addition, it is hoped it will raise over £730 million for charities as all money raised from the new charges has to be donated to good causes.
As with any legislation, the new law has its critics. They argue that thin, modern plastic bags are cleaner to produce in terms of greenhouse gases than the thicker “bags for life” or textile bags which need to be used more than 100 times to be more environmentally friendly than a disposable supermarket bag. However, it is impossible to get away from the fact that traditional supermarket bags are not biodegradable and therefore even if they are properly disposed of they exist in landfill sites for hundreds of years.
Overall the public appears to be embracing the new charge and supermarkets are not reporting the “chaos” predicted by certain elements of the media in the run up its introduction. Many shoppers agree with Friends of the Earth, Senior Resources Campaigner, David Powell who said: “Reducing plastic bag use is a visible and important measure, but it’s hardly job done.”
“From the oceans of pointless plastic wrapping our food and consumer goods, to flat-lining household recycling rates, England has a very long way to go if it’s serious about keeping waste out of our land, rivers and seas.”