Plastic bags - Environmental Audit Committee Contents


6.  Although there is evidence that higher charges can achieve greater impact, a charge set at 5p has been shown to be highly effective in Wales in substantially reducing use. Evidence from Ireland suggests that increasing the size of the charge, or having a credible threat to do so, is important for sustaining changed behaviours. The Government should implement a 5p charge for all single-use carrier bags, following the example of the scheme in Wales, but should review the level of the charge after two years to assess if an increase is necessary. (Paragraph 23)

7.  Paper bags can have a greater emissions impact than plastic bags. Exempting paper bags from the charge, as the Government proposes, would weaken the message to reuse bags, diminish the impact of the charge and the likely reduction in the number of bags used and associated environmental benefits. The Government should therefore include paper bags in the charge. (Paragraph 27)

8.  With the introduction of a charging scheme for single-use bags, the Government should be ready to introduce legislation to ensure that retailers sell 'bags for life' at an appropriate higher price than the charge for single-use bags, taking into account their greater emissions impact. The Government should set a minimum price for bags for life at a level which incentivises their reuse; perhaps a minimum of 10p for a thin and 20p for a thick bag for life that could subsequently be replaced for free if it breaks. The Government should ensure any additional proceeds of these charges also go to charity, with retailers allowed to recover the cost of such replacements. (Paragraph 36)

9.  The Government's proposed exemption for small retailers is unnecessary, and risks adding undue complexity to the scheme, reducing its environmental impact and reduction in bag use. There is compelling evidence that small retailers want to be included in the mandatory scheme as a voluntary approach could be counter-productive. The Government should include small retailers in the scheme, but exempt those with 10 employees or fewer from detailed reporting requirements. As in Wales, all shops should be required to publicise in-store the proceeds and where the money raised is spent. (Paragraph 40)

10.  Whilst we support the use of funds for good causes, such as environmental charities, we are concerned about potential abuse of the scheme. The Government should set clear rules for transparent reporting and for retailers to publicise prominently in store where the funds are going. It should ensure tough sanctions exist to prevent retailers having a conflict of interest about which charities are supported and ideally shoppers should decide which local charity the funds go to, as already happens in some stores. If there is evidence of retailers abusing this approach, the Government should follow the example of the landfill tax and plastic bag tax in the Republic of Ireland by centrally collecting and allocating funds for environmental projects. (Paragraph 43)

11.  Under current proposals the Treasury intends to take VAT from the proceeds from the bag charge (just under 1p of the 5p), which would otherwise go to charity. The estimated £19 million raised in VAT should be spent on new environmental programmes and to cover the costs of monitoring the effectiveness of the scheme. This would help reinforce the wider environmental objectives of the charge and maintain public support. (Paragraph 45)

12.  More research is needed into how people respond to the charge including the impact on littering and recycling. The Government should ensure that retailers collect and submit data on bag reuse, and monitor how the charge affects wider behaviours to ensure the scheme has as significant an environmental impact as possible. (Paragraph 49)

13.  The Government should remove the proposed exemption for biodegradable bags. It presents risks to recyclers and might cause as much harm to the natural environment and wildlife as new or recycled bags. (Paragraph 64)

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Prepared 6 February 2014