Break the bag habit: the case for a charge on reusable bags

Here is my column from the latest issue of The Countryman.

For years CPRE has urged the Government to adopt a small measure that will have a big impact on litter, a 5p charge on single-use carrier bags.  It is not the biggest environmental issue, but it is an easy one.  In 2012 over six billion bags were given out in the UK – six billion!  Plastic bags take around 1,000 years to degrade; they are an eyesore in town and country; and they harm animals – the RSPCA receives 7,000 calls a year to deal with litter-related incidents, many of them involving plastic bags.

The arguments for a charge are unanswerable, which may be why two years ago, in September 2011, the Prime Minister told retailers they must reduce bag use or face a compulsory charge.  That was in response to a 5% increase in bag use – a mere 333 million extra bags, but still significant.

The response of the retailers was interesting: introduce a charge if you want to solve the problem, they said, we have done all we can short of charging.  The devolved administrations took note and there are now charges in Wales, Northern Ireland and, most recently, Scotland.  The result has been a big reduction in litter.

In England, however, there has been total inaction, though the word the Government uses is ‘monitoring’.  I am not sure what there is to monitor.  In England bag use rose by a further 4.4% this year.  It has fallen by 76% in Wales and the charge is very popular.

CPRE has a Break the Bag Habit campaign with Surfers Against Sewage, the Marine Conservation Society, Keep Britain Tidy and others, but when it comes to litter it is clear that the Government is hooked on inaction.  And they are under no political pressure.  If ever there was an easy policy for the Labour Party, this is it:  cheap, popular and effective.  It would even win grudging praise from the Daily Mail, a blue moon event.  But through some boneheaded reluctance to commit to anything that might be misinterpreted as a new tax, the Labour Party stays silent.

So we will keep up the pressure.  Away with witches’ knickers in the trees!  No more Tesco bags in the hedgerows!  Anything Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can do, England can do as well, even if a little late…

2 Responses to “Break the bag habit: the case for a charge on reusable bags”


  1. 1 Gareth Huw Davies August 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Please keep in your pressure. The government, and opposition, have been craven on this point. This is a “low hanging fruit” issue, easily sorted before we move to really difficult challenges.

  2. 2 ellahhomes September 6, 2013 at 6:21 am

    yes it will be very appreciationable.it will control yhe maximum use of plastic bags.


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