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Government rapped over bags failure

The Government has been criticised for failing to follow the lead of other parts of the UK and bring in a plastic bag tax to cut litter and waste in England.

A 5p levy on single-use carrier bags has come into force in Northern Ireland, making England the only area of the UK not taking action to bring in a charge on plastic bags.

Wales introduced a 5p charge on single-use bags 18 months ago and has since seen the number of carrier bags handed out by retailers drop by between 70% and 96%. A similar scheme is expected to be introduced in Scotland.

But campaigners said the Environment Department (Defra) was offering up "feeble excuses" as to why a bag charge would not work in England, where the number of plastic bags handed out in 2011 rose 7.5% on the previous year to almost 6.8 billion.

They have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of breaking a promise made in 2010 to take action on single-use carrier bags.

The Break The Bag Habit coalition of conservation and anti-litter groups said most of the bags given away by retailers are only used for a few minutes before being thrown away and often end up littering the UK's seas and countryside.

Dr Sue Kinsey, of the Marine Conservation Society and spokeswoman for the Coalition, said: "It is truly unbelievable that England is being left behind in this matter. Despite successful and popular actions from all the devolved administrations, we are still getting feeble excuses from Defra as to why such a scheme would not work in England.

"Defra appears to be saying that the people couldn't afford a charge or retailers wouldn't cope - but we know from the Welsh experience this just isn't true."

Keep Britain Tidy, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Marine Conservation Society, Surfers Against Sewage and London groups Thames21 and Greener Upon Thames are calling for a charge to be introduced in England by the end of 2014.

But a spokesman for Defra said: "We want to work with retailers to help them lift their game to cut the number of bags they hand out. We are monitoring the results of charging schemes and the outcome of the Scottish consultation on a charge."


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