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Posts Tagged ‘bag tax’

EU-wide plastic bag ban divides opinion

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Experts are warning that proposals for an EU-wide ban on plastic carrier bags should be based on evidence and not simply political pressure. A ban may form part of proposals to be unveiled next month by the European Commission in its green paper on plastic waste. Many in the plastics industry fear that the document may bow to public opinion expressed in a recent consultation, in which 70% of respondents voted for an outright ban.

In the UK, an e-petition launched very recently to banish plastic bags has already attracted some 650 signatures and is backed by a number of high-profile figures. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will secure a debate in the House of Commons.

Many industry pundits argue that a ban will lead to an increase in use of alternatives to plastic bags, many of which are more damaging to the environment. Paper bags, for example, use the same amount of oil to make as a plastic bag, but are considerably bulkier to transport, adding to transport miles and increasing carbon footprint. It is also feared that banning single-use carrier bags will lead to people buying plastic bags – instead of simply reusing their grocery bags – for their compost, kitchen refuse and dog waste. Long-life bags such as cotton shoppers need to be used a number of times before they have a lower environmental impact, so it is a question of changing people’s behaviour.

Most retailers object to a ban, preferring a voluntary approach as in France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and the Netherlands, where retailers have begun charging for plastic bags voluntarily. Italy implemented Europe’s first outright ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags at the beginning of 2011. Denmark, Ireland and Bulgaria charge a plastic bag tax, while Belgium applies a fee that goes straight to a plastics recycling firm.

Ban or tax for plastic bags?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Last year, the European Commission’s public consultation on plastic bag use gathered over 15,500 responses. The results showed that over 70% of respondents were in favour of a ban on the distribution of plastic bags and the Commission is now considering its response.

Debates and votes on plastic bag use are increasingly common around the world. Countries, including China and Ireland, and cities, including San Francisco and Mexico City, have adopted bans or taxes in some form to curb the use of plastic bags. The issue is hotly contested in the US currently where, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year – most of which end up in landfill sites.

Although reducing litter and minimising environmental impact is something every community should strive for, both plastic bag bans and taxes bring their own problems. Although bans and taxes lead to a reduction in the use of disposable plastic bags, the amount of pollution overall is typically unaffected.

When plastic bags are taxed or banned, many grocery shoppers turn instead to paper bags. While paper bags are green in the sense that they can be recycled, getting them to the store results in a higher carbon footprint. Being considerably bulkier and heavier, it typically takes almost seven lorries to deliver the number of paper bags that would fit in one lorry of plastic bags. This means that more fuel is required, resulting in more air pollution. Plastic bags can be recycled into oil, which can then be used for fuel, helping to mitigate the carbon footprint of delivering them to stores.

There is also the argument of convenience. Plastic bags quite simply have much higher functionality due to their low weight, compactness and relative strength. Ultimately plastic bags also take up much less space in landfills than bags made of alternative materials. For all these reasons, many people argue that a much better solution than a ban or a tax is to educate the public and encourage people to recycle more.

Northern Ireland to impose carrier bag tax next year

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

A tax on single-use plastic carrier bags of 5p is planned in Northern Ireland in 2013. The announcement was made last week by Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, who said that the tax would rise to 10p by April 2014. The proposals now have to go before the Northern Ireland assembly for approval before becoming law. Under the plans, there will be no charge for multi-use bags in 2013, although they will cost 10p the following year.

Mr Attwood commented, “There is no doubt that carrier bags are a scourge on the environment. Evidence from other countries demonstrates that a bag levy is a simple and effective means to reduce substantially the negative environmental impact of carrier bag consumption. A proposed 10p levy on single use carrier bags and lower cost reusable carrier bags can bring about significant environmental improvement. However I recognise that consumers will need time to change their behaviour and adjust to bringing their own bags when they shop. I therefore propose to discount the charge to five pence in the first year, when the levy will only apply to single-use carrier bags. This will ensure a phased approach to charging.”

The plans are being opposed by some sectors of the business community in Northern Ireland. In an interview with the BBC, Glynn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) said, “We are concerned that this is a tax on hard-pressed working families and will add to the burden of red tape, particularly for small shops who will become tax collectors for this new scheme. It’s unclear if it is intended to discourage plastic bag use or if it is a revenue raiser. It has to do one or the other – it can’t do both.”

The move follows a similar tax implemented by the Republic of Ireland in 2002 – which now amounts to 22 cents (18p) – following which usage of plastic bags in the Irish Republic fell by 90%. A similar scheme was recently implemented in Wales and has also significantly reduced the number of bags issued at the tills of retail stores.

Many environmentalists see the move by the Northern Ireland Executive as adding further pressure on David Cameron to introduce similar legislation for England. However, the efficacy of plastic bag taxes has been repeatedly called into question, as evidence from around the world suggests that their introduction results in rocketing sales of bin liners, suggesting that the genuinely ‘single-use’ carrier bag is a rare item indeed.

EC bag consultation shows depth of feeling – and depth of ignorance

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

With the European Commission having published the results of its consultation on the use of plastic bags, the plastics industry is awash with comment and debate. Many pundits feel that the report reveals an alarming level of ignorance among the European public about the effects of plastic on the environment.

A staggering 97 percent of responses ’strongly agreed’ that action is needed to curb plastic bag use. Comments included the following statement:

“Plastic is destroying our environment and is a pollution that is not necessary. It is has a deep bad impact on nature and it is poisonous for all living systems. There are basically profit-interests behind using so much plastic. We should avoid using it and the EU should decide against unnecessary plastics.”

Strong stuff and rather spurious. Another respondent claimed:

“Carrier bags are a needless drain on our oil resources and can be easily replaced by reusable bags.”

This perhaps overlooks the point that plastic bags are, in fact, reusable!

Unsurprisingly, the plastics industry is fighting back with a vengeance. For instance, PRW.com – the online version of Plastics & Rubber Weekly – referred to some of the public’s comments as “baseless twaddle”.

One thing is clear: the plastics industry – and plastic bag suppliers in particular – are very likely to be facing action from the EC in the near future.

Co-op hits out at Scottish bag tax

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The Co-operative Group has become the latest organisation in the retail sector to voice its concerns over the proposed plastic bag tax in Scotland.

Becky Toal, the group’s Environmental Programme Manager, laid out the case against the tax at an environmental committee meeting in the Scottish Parliament recently. Arguing against the proposed levy of 10p on plastic bags across Scotland, Ms Toal said that, while the Co-op backed the ethos of waste management, it feared the bag tax would have a negative overall effect on the environment and might even result in violence in its stores.

“The Co-op is committed to seeking new ways of minimising the impact of industry on the environment,” Ms Toal told the committee. “We firmly support the Scottish Executive’s desire to tackle the problem of waste and have introduced a raft of environmentally-friendly initiatives over the years to reduce the environmental impact of our trading activities.”

“The Co-operative Group and other societies trading within Scotland do not believe the current proposal is a workable solution to the challenge of minimising the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags,” she continued.

Ms Toal argued that the Co-op agreed with Scottish Retail Consortium’s view that plastic carrier bags are not a significant contributor to litter pollution. The Co-op, she explained, also agreed with the SRC that customer pressure to replace plastic bags with paper bags would undo the work of the bag levy. The SRC has argued that paper bags have a higher environmental impact in terms of production than plastic bags. In addition, as paper bags are 4-5 times more voluminous than plastic ones, more deliveries are required to get them to stores, adding to road miles, congestion and emissions.

Ms Toal also added that the Co-op feared that customers might start a backlash, with the risk of violence in stores. “Store-based colleagues would be likely to face significant customer challenge to the introduction of the levy,” she said. “The rise of physical and verbal abuse faced by many employees in the retail sector has been well charted by Usdaw in its Freedom From Fear campaign. If responsibility for communicating about the levy rests with retailers and retail employees, they would be likely to face uncertainty, at best, and annoyance, at worst, from consumers.”

Call for Wales to scrap its bag tax

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Following the recent research by the Environment Agency into supermarket bags, which found that a cotton shopping bag has to be re-used over 130 times to have less environmental impact than a single-use plastic carrier, the packaging industry is stepping up its efforts to persuade the Welsh Assembly to abandon its plans for a carrier bag tax, planned for October.

The new tax, which could see shops charging as much as 15p for a bag, has been attacked in a joint open letter to Jane Davidson, Welsh Environment Minister, from Barry Turner, Chief Executive of the Packaging and Films Association, and Paul Marmot, Chairman of the Carrier Bag Consortium. They argue that the minister had given them an undertaking to review the planned tax if the EA’s research proved that lightweight bags had a lower environmental impact compared with heavier carriers.

Barry Turner said: “We are now calling on Jane Davidson to honour her word and abandon the bag tax in Wales. This would be a brave move but it would show that the Welsh Assembly, like the Scottish Parliament before it, respects science over spin.”

Paul Marmot added: “This is what we have been telling the Welsh Environment Minister for years and yet she has forced this tax on the people of Wales. If it goes ahead, Wales will suffer higher environmental damage not less. These are the unintended consequences which her counterparts in Westminster and Scotland acknowledged a long time ago.”

Mr Turner went on to say: “By encouraging consumers to reuse carrier bags, consumption has dropped by around 50% in Wales – up to 70% in some cases. People are now encouraged to recycle unwanted bags at front of store with around 5,000 collection points now available across the UK and retailers have revised their bag specifications to ensure minimal resources are used. There has also been an increase of 40% in the amount of recycled plastic being used in bags. All this has been achieved without Government intervention and all within the waste framework directive – according to the principles of reduce, reuse and recycle.”