Breaking the Bag Habit: what next?

Congratulations to everyone involved in the decision to introduce a charge for single use bags.  The Liberal Democrat conference supported the policy last year, and now the party has seen it through.  But the coalition as a whole deserves credit, not least because it was under no pressure from the Opposition to bring in a charge.

CPRE helped found the Break the Bag Habit coalition in August last year.  The policy had a lot of support not only from the main national coalition partners – Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage – but from Greener Upon Thames (who supported a delegation of school children to David Cameron ten days ago), Zac Goldsmith MP, Lush Cosmetics, and many others.

The Daily Mail is obviously a pretty good ally to have, and it was the Mail that broke the news this morning.  Countless local campaigns and initiatives in England also deserve credit, starting with Modbury in Devon, as does the fact that all the other home nations have introduced a charge, something I wrote about on this blog a couple of weeks ago.  Hats off, too, to the retailers such as M&S and W. H. Smith who already charge for bags.

To win the campaign little more than a year after the Break the Bag Habit coalition was formed is great news.  I remember the lobby of Conservative Conference last year, including a very striking Marge Simpson bag monster, looking suspiciously like Will Gates, then of CPRE and now with WSPA.  Victory seemed some way off then.

Two final thoughts.  First, this has been a very political campaign.  A group of NGOs got together to try to influence political decisions.  We lobbied, and were prepared to go on lobbying into the next general election.  I don’t believe that the Government’s Lobbying Bill is intended to stop campaigns of this sort, but it might have that effect and it should be withdrawn.

Second, now the Government is willing to introduce a charge for single use bags, will it consider introducing (or reintroducing) deposits for bottles and cans?  We know the Prime Minister sympathises with the idea, which is a good start.  A charge on carrier bags will undoubtedly reduce the number of bags littering hedgerows, parks and streets.  But it will make the discarded bottles and cans even more conspicuous…

7 Responses to “Breaking the Bag Habit: what next?”


  1. 1 geoff lambert September 16, 2013 at 7:32 am

    Isn’t it sad when a nations Government has to spend time on such a trivial matter. consumer pressure should have been sufficient to force retailers to react. That assumes consumers wanted this change, that sufficient of them were making it clear to retailers that bags were an issue. Reality is only a minority think this is a problem and many might resent the imposition of another charge which simply increases the cost of food. while I have long wanted to stop the proliferation of bags, penalising the majority is unlikely to encourage them to support our cause. I suspect we have just seen another missed opportunity.

  2. 2 Michael Monk September 16, 2013 at 8:44 am

    It is good news, yes, but my understanding is that it will not be introduced until after the next general election and that if a Conservative majority government was the result. they would NOT honour the commitment. Is this so?

  3. 3 Arthur Franks September 16, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    We discussed the bottle idea, at the weekend and although it sounds good, it worked when everything that came in bottles was’local’. My favourite bottled beer is bottled in Cumbria (150miles away) and has ingredient details etc in french as well as english. It is obviously sold in France so how environmentally friendly would returning empty bottles be.Pur them in local recycling bins.

  4. 4 Will Gates September 16, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Shaun, thanks for the mention. In my own small way I am thrilled to have been a part of this campaign. It is a real victory for Stop the Drop. Huge credit should go to Sam and also Bill Bryson for keeping this on the agenda since 2008. Well done to all involved but particularly to those from CPRE. In my opinion this wouldn’t have been successful without CPRE’s input and it should be celebrated as a major success for the organisation over the years to come.

  5. 5 Sam Harding September 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Our understanding is that David Cameron is particularly supportive of this measure, hence being able, ultimately, to override the resistance from the Treasury. The delay in implementation I think is for a number of reasons. It will take about a year to get everything prepared to launch, therefore the English scheme would launch at the same time as the Scottish scheme (October 2014). I think there would have been agreement that this may not be a good idea. Also, if it was launched in October 2014 or slightly afterwards and the implementation didn’t go smoothly, that would be too close to the 2015 General Election for comfort. I don’t think there’s a risk that the Conservatives wouldn’t honour this commitment, as too much work would already have been done by government departments and retailers.

    I don’t see how charging for bags increases the cost of food? And the retailers themselves said the only next step was for the Government to introduce legislation so ‘consumer power’ wasn’t relevant here.

    Our polling showed that the majority of people across all economic groups understood the issue and supported a charge, with 75% of people saying a charge would encourage them to change their behaviour – which is the point of the exercise. With a 76% drop in carrier bag usage in Wales reported last month, that suggests that at least 76% of carrier bag usage was unnecessary, something which I don’t think is an insignificant point.

    The old deposit scheme in the UK was based on bottles being refilled which certainly benefited from the related infrastructure being local. However, a modern scheme would use one-way containers which can be recaptured at thousands of outlets across the UK – local recycling bins, if you like – so the scheme delivers the incentive for drinks containers to be returned and captures the materials easily and efficiently.

  6. 6 Emily Wiles-Norton September 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Yet more costs put on the consumer through spurious “Green Taxes”. The only necessary give away items in supermarkets. What a surprise.
    Mr. Advertiser already looking to give away millions of bags now promoting other companies, and services, from Insurance, to health care info. A brilliant new advertising market. Have your name in every supermarket shoppers draw, bin, park, bus journey, packed lunch on the beach etc. Everybody’s name but ASDA, Morrisons, Tesco etc. An advertisers dream come true…..all thanks to the “Green brigade”. More bags than ever, more advertising sources given from more locations….all free, just different names, and messages.

  7. 7 Sam Harding September 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Whilst I don’t understand the Mr Advertiser comment, the issue of ‘green taxes’ doesn’t apply, as it’s a charge and not a tax – ie. it’s entirely voluntary. And of course we think the bags were given away, but of course the cost of them were spread across other products in our shopping basket. Not exactly fair for those that don’t use them.


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