NEW regulations to introduce a charge for single-use carrier bags have been backed by the Scottish Parliament, with a 5p minimum charge for bags to be introduced this October.
MSPs at Holyrood backed the measure after Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said it was “time to take action” on the issue.
The regulations, which were approved by 100 votes to 12, will bring in mandatory charging for almost all single-use carrier bags from October this year, with the proceeds to go to good causes.
Mr Lochhead said the move was part of “wider work” being carried out to reduce litter.
“Scotland uses around 750 million single-use carrier bags a year, each and every year, from supermarkets alone. More per head than anywhere else in these islands,” he said.
“It’s time to take action to reduce the number of these bags given out.
“So this is part of our wider work to tackle Scotland’s litter problem. Carrier bags are a highly visible and damaging part of our litter problem in our communities, by our roadsides and in our seas.”
Mr Lochhead said the move would also challenge the “throw-away society” and encourage greater use of re-useable bags to “help make the most out of increasingly limited resources and to cut carbon emissions at the same time”.
He described the regulations as being a “proportionate response to the issue” and pledged administration of the scheme would be “as light touch as possible, particularly on small businesses”.
He told MSPs there was public support for charging, adding similar schemes were “working well in Wales and Northern Ireland and even the UK government is set to introduce a charge in England”.
Tory MSP Alex Fergusson argued against the move, saying: “I don’t believe this measure will reduce litter, I don’t believe it will reduce the overall demand for plastic.”
He claimed that including bags for take-away food in the scheme meant there was a “very real risk of reduced food safety”.
The Conservative added: “I hope I’m wrong about this, but the evidence I’ve seen suggests I won’t be.”
Ian Gulland, director of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “This is a hugely positive step which will help to reduce the number of bags in use and therefore the number ending up as litter in our communities.
“We are working with all types of retailers affected by the charge, in all parts of Scotland, to help them understand how the charge will work and what the impact will be for their business. I encourage them to get in touch.”
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks also welcomed the decision.
He said: “Charging for carrier bags has been highly successful in changing behaviour elsewhere, so it’s great news Scotland is now going to do likewise.
“Single-use carrier bags are symbolic of our wasteful attitude to resource use which must be addressed if Scotland’s vision of a zero waste future is to be realised.
“The millions of carrier bags used every year pollute our environment, threaten wildlife and take decades to break down in landfills.”
RSPB Scotland said a similar charge introduced in Wales in 2011 had led to a “massive” reduction in the use of plastic bags and generated significant funds for good causes.
Conservation policy officer Alexa Morrison said: “RSPB Scotland has been a strong supporter of a carrier bag charge in Scotland, and we are very pleased to see the regulations approved today.
“Although carrier bags are only one part of a bigger waste problem, they are a highly visible aspect of the need to tackle plastic waste and can have significant environmental impacts. Plastic bags, like other plastic waste, often end up in the marine environment and can harm seabirds, turtles, marine mammals and other wildlife.
“It is encouraging to see Scotland take this step forward in tackling waste issues and moving towards a more sustainable society.”
Derek Robertson, chief executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “Introduction of the charge in Scotland will make a real difference to levels of litter on the streets of Scotland, a problem identified by the hundreds of thousands volunteers who are helping our Clean Up Scotland Campaign. Scotland has a litter problem, and these regulations will help significantly.”