The UK government proposes to make supermarkets in England charge 5p for plastic bags from 2015 onwards. Northern Ireland and Wales already impose charges for bags, and Scotland intends to do so from next year. Several countries outside the UK, notably France, already do this. The proposal is that the money so raised will not go to the stores themselves or to the government, but to “environmental charities.” The problem has been that over 8 billion bags are used annually in the UK. They can take 1,000 years to decay, and present a danger to wildlife on land and at sea as well as being a blight on the natural beauty of the countryside.
Two modest tweaks would improve this proposal and increase its acceptability and popularity. To charge shoppers an extra 5p per bag at a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet is bad timing. An exemption should be made for biodegradable bags. I was surprised some time back to see that what seemed like a clear plastic sheet covering my sandwich was described as degradable, and was apparently derived from corn. Several biodegradable clear food wraps are already on the market, and I doubt it would take much to develop a shopping bag designed to degrade within a set time. We could even put up a worthwhile prize for the inventor who manages to produce one cheaply enough. Supermarkets might wish to offer the option of free biodegradable bags as alternatives to 5p plastic ones.
My second tweak is that “environmental charities” which undertake political campaigns should be excluded from those receiving the proceeds of the 5p charge. It might go instead to those that do practical work to protect wildlife and habitat, that clean up rivers, etc. It should not go to those that campaign against business and lobby for new and higher taxes, or for those that seek to limit our behaviour to what they deem acceptable. Given those two tweaks, I think the proposed 5p charge will attract fewer grumbles that it will without them.
Filed under: Updates