Wales plans tax on the free plastic carrier bag

Another way of using the environment as an excuse for raising revenue?

by Michael Smith

The devolved government of Wales plans to introduce and use legislation to ban free plastic bags alongside voluntary commitments made by retailers.

The Welsh Assembly has announced that it will begin work on legislation to make free single-use carrier bags a thing of the past, mirroring Ireland's successful bag tax.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson has said civil servants are now investigating how such a system might be made to work within the context of the Climate Change Act.

So, in other words, unlike Ireland that actually created a new law for this the Welsh Assembly tries to see whether the Climate Change Act could be made to cover this retrospectively. Worrying thought though as regards to other things and while the path to legislation against the free single-use plastic bags can all but be applauded I am seeing a precedence being set here that could be used in other ways too.

While Scotland has long considered action on legislation to cut the use of throw-away bags, this move makes Wales the first UK administration to start work in this area.

Ms Davidson made the announcement while visiting a Newport company, SCA Packaging, which makes recyclable boxes to replace bags in supermarkets.

She also said she had been in talks with Irish Environment Minister John Gormley about how the system there had cut the use of plastic bags by an estimated 90%.

"I have always stated that I do not support the use of one-trip plastic bags," she said.

"They are not usually bio-degradable and represent a waste of resources. Customers have come to expect free plastic bags at checkouts, but the tide appears to be turning as shoppers look for more environmentally-friendly options.

"I have asked my department to develop legislation to end the use of single use carrier bags. Currently there is a voluntary agreement where certain retailers have agreed to reduce the number of single use carrier bags by 50% by May this year - this is a good target.

"But this does not cover all retailers and still leaves 50% using one trip plastic bags. I recognise we need to give the retail sector a chance to demonstrate what they can do voluntarily, but I am willing to use all the powers at our disposal.

"An estimated 490 million plastic bags are used in Wales each year. It takes between 450 and 1,000 years for these bags to degrade."

And, what no one seems to want to talk about; while those bags degrade they release G-d only knows what poisons into the soil and the water. And that aside from the damage that the bags do when no properly disposed off and they end up in the world's oceans.

While the Climate Change Act includes mechanisms which would allow the Welsh Assembly Government to force retailers to charge for plastic bags, it would not be able to dictate how this money would be spent.

Maybe, instead of taxing people and retailers one could suggest education and the giving out of reusable sturdy cloth shopping bags from such things as jute, for instance, and there are many people who are out there reworking fabric offcuts into such bags.

Those bags could be handed out to people at a small charge and while that might not cover the production costs it would make a difference, especially if people would then come back shopping with this bag or those bags again and again.

Our mothers and grand-mothers used to have reusable shopping bags, sometimes bought in stores sometimes those that they made themselves.

Why, but why did we ever go down the road of the plastic carrier bag?

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009