Take Your Own Or Get A Bag?

Bags of confusion over English 5p charge claims charity

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Single use carrier bag charge in England – great news for our oceans but a whole bag full of confusion for shoppers, says UK marine charity.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the UK’s leading marine charity, says the 5p carrier bag charge being introduced in England on October 5th can only be good news for marine and beach litter levels, but could end up being a shambles for shoppers who won’t know what to expect from one shop to another.

Small businesses in England - those employing fewer than 250 people - aren’t included in the scheme whilst in larger supermarkets where the charge is compulsory, cashiers will be asked to decide whether a charge must be paid by checking if the goods shoppers are buying qualify for a free bag.

Successful schemes in other parts of UK not replicated in England, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all shops, however small, have to apply the charge. Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Policy Officer, says despite the Government suggesting they wanted to minimise confusion for the public and reduce the burden on cross-border organisations, the English scheme does the opposite.

“The Government has decided to bring in some totally superfluous and unhelpful exemptions which will cause confusion to retailers and consumers alike. It’s almost as if, having dragged their heels for so long, they feel they have to change something just to be different to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, despite the schemes being successful there,” says Dr Kinsey.

MCS says the exemption for organisations with fewer than 250 employees is most concerning.

“We believe this could cause major confusion and headaches for retailers and for customers who won’t be aware of what size of business they are shopping in. Will you be charged at a large supermarket but not at its smaller ‘lite’ version just down the road? Surely giving a level playing field to all retailers is beneficial and around 8,000 smaller businesses have already voiced their concern that they don’t want to be excluded,” says Dr Kinsey.

As in the Welsh scheme, paper bags are also exempt from charges in England, yet they have a substantial environmental footprint. “The whole point of a charge is to change behaviour, reduce bag use and therefore replacing one single use item with another is not the way to go,” says Dr Kinsey.

MCS says it’s quite clear from the comments they’ve received via social media from people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, that a straightforward charge is not only easy for consumers to understand but it also focuses minds on the reason why a charge is so important.

In 2014 MCS volunteer beach cleaners collected 5,199 carrier bags on 300 UK beaches - that’s 47 for every kilometre surveyed as part of the charity’s Beachwatch programme.

“This is not a tax raiser for Government, but a charge to kick start behaviour change, ultimately resulting in fewer plastic bags on our beaches and in our oceans,” Dr Kinsey continues. “We want people to embrace the charge and the environmental good it’s doing rather than be confused and angered by it every time they go shopping”.

September 30, 2015

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