Call for UK-wide carrier bag charge
A compulsory charge on carrier bags should be rolled out to the rest of the UK, the Welsh Government's environment minister has said.
Twelve months ago Wales became the first of the four home nations to implement such a scheme. It means shoppers must bring their own plastic bags or face a minimum 5p charge - with proceeds going to charity. Northern Ireland is set to bring in a similar levy next year, while Scotland and England's governments are yet to make up their minds.
However, Welsh Government environment minister John Griffiths believes the latter pair should follow Wales' lead after the charge has reduced single-use carrier bags by up to 96%.
He said: "One year on from the introduction of our 5p bag charge it is obvious it has made a real difference to shopping habits of people here. Checkouts across Wales are now full of people using their own bags to carry shopping rather than paying 5p for a new one, and it is really heartening to see people developing sustainable shopping habits.
"The Welsh experience proves if you want to effectively reduce carrier bag use, a charge really is the best way to go. I can see no reason why the charge wouldn't work just as well in other parts of the UK."
The charge in Wales aimed to drastically cut the number of single use carrier bags issued by shop assistants at the till. Retailers have to charge a minimum of 5p per bag - and the cash will go towards good causes benefiting the environment.
Stores with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from keeping records on how many bags they have "sold" as well as how much money they have raised. Outlets refusing to charge customers could face prosecution - although no local authority has taken enforcement action.
A recent survey claimed 70% of people in Wales were in favour of the new system following its introduction on October 1 last year. Welsh Government officials say it is "not possible" to give a total figure of how much the bag tax has raised, but estimate it runs into "hundreds of thousands of pounds".
However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) voiced mixed feelings about the charge and stressed a consistent approach would be needed if the scheme became rolled out on a UK-wide basis.
BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said: "Compulsory charging for single use plastic bags is a brutal approach, which risks switching people off from engaging with environmental issues. A voluntary and incentivised scheme would be far better - for example people who bring in their own bags are rewarded through coupons or a points scheme."