Plastic bag culture targeted with 5p charge
SCOTLAND's "plastic bag culture" must end, the environment secretary warned yesterday, as Marks & Spencer announced it will charge customers 5p for every food carrier given out by its stores.
Richard Lochhead will write to other shops and ask them what action they are taking to help meet the national target of reducing the overall impact of carrier bags by 25 per cent by the end of this year.
More than 12.4 billion plastic bags were used in the UK last year – about a billion of them in Scotland.
M&S said the 5p fee would apply only to its food carriers, 394 million of which were handed out last year. The charge aims to reduce demand, with all profits going to the environmental charity Groundwork for investment in green spaces.
The Green Party's waste and recycling spokesman, Adrian Ramsay, welcomed the 5p charge but said: "While the Green Party applauds small voluntary steps like those from M&S in trying to encourage customer behavioural change away from the endless consumption of new plastic bags, we believe the only way to achieve a serious and sustainable decrease is through legislation introducing a mandatory tax on every bag used."
More than 70 towns and local authorities are lobbying the government for the right to ban plastic bags. Dunoon and North Berwick are among places urging a change in the law that would let local councils ban distribution of carrier bags.
At Sainsbury's, use of free disposable bags in the past six months fell by 10 per cent compared with a year earlier and take-up of reusable bags rose by nearly 50 per cent. Tesco has committed itself to reducing the use of free plastic bags by a quarter by the end of next year, but opposes a ban. The store said its plastic bags were degradable and began to rot down after a couple of months.
Carrier bags for non-food M&S goods will not incur a charge under the plans unveiled yesterday. Some 170 million of these general merchandise bags were given out in 2007.
M&S will give all food customers free long-lasting Bags for Life from early April for one month before the 5p charge starts on 6 May.
Mini food bags and horticultural bags will still be available free on request. Bags for Life will revert to their usual 10p cost from 6 May and will be replaced free of charge when worn out.
Yesterday's M&S announcement follows a trial period of charging for food carrier bags in more than 50 of its stores, which saw customer demand drop by over 70 per cent.
Sir Stuart Rose, the M&S chief executive, said plastic bags could be phased out completely if customers wanted it.
"We want to make it easy for our customers to do their bit to help the environment and our trials have shown us that they want to take action," he said.
"Just imagine if M&S customers right across the UK cut the number of food bags they use by 70 per cent – that's over 280 million bags they'd be saving every year."
M&S food carriers are currently made from 20 per cent recycled plastic. That will be increased to 100 per cent from 6 May. Non-food carrier bags are already made from 100 per cent recycled waste material.
GOAL OF CUTTING BAG USE BY 25% STILL A LONG WAY OFF
PLASTIC bag use in Britain was reduced by 8 per cent from 2006 to 2007.
But this is still way off the UK target of reducing the overall impact of carrier bags by 25 per cent by the end of the year, and almost one billion bags were issued in Scotland in the past 12 months.
Richard Lochhead, the rural affairs secretary, said: "Reducing the unnecessary use of plastic bags is crucial if we are going to achieve a zero waste society in Scotland. Some progress has been made, but more needs to be done. UK retailers need to do much more to reduce the use and impact of plastic bags.
"I will be writing to Scottish retailers to ask precisely what action they are taking to deliver the target of a 25 per cent reduction in the impact of carrier bags by the end of the year."
His comments were welcomed by the environmental group WWF Scotland. But its director, Dr Dan Barlow, said more retailers must restrict use of plastic bags.
"Unless other retailers follow suit and step up their efforts, we will urge the Scottish Government to bring forward mandatory measures to cut plastic bag use in Scotland."
What the shoppers have to say
Dorothy McIntyre, 83, of Brunstane, Edinburgh: "I don't mind M&S bringing in the 5p charge but they should stop providing plastic bags altogether. They take too long to deteriorate and end up in landfills, so it can only be a good thing to do something drastic like this.
"I nearly always use my own shopping bag but sometimes you buy something you didn't expect to buy and then you end up taking the shop's bag. Maybe this will encourage people to carry plastic bags."
Heather Couston, 48, of Broxburn, West Lothian: "I wouldn't pay 5p for a plastic bag so it will make me carry my own bags with me. I think if people have to pay it will encourage them to carry a spare one.
"My mother always used to use real shopping bags, which I think makes me associate something that is actually very "green" nowadays with little old ladies. It is only right that we should be more aware of environmental issues and if people need hit in the pocket to make it work, that's OK."
Sarah Furniss , 16, pupil at James Gillespie's High School, Edinburgh: "Charging 5p a bag sounds fine to me – it's not as if M&S are going to keep the money for themselves. It might make people use fewer plastic bags and put more stuff into the ones they have."
Lynn Searl, 16, pupil at James Gillespie's High School, Edinburgh: "Everyone needs to invest in a big handbag-style bag they can put lots of things in. But they won't, so charging will maybe make them think twice about taking plastic bags. Eventually they'll get fed up paying and start using some other sort of bag instead. "
Michael Higgins, 30, salesman, Edinburgh: "I think it's a great idea. If 5p is going to cover their costs and it goes to charity then that's fine by me. Perhaps they could even charge more to make their point.
"Today I got a plastic bag in the first shop I went into and everywhere else I went I was asked if I wanted one. I've been putting all my shopping in the first bag to save using more. I also object to free advertising."
Stanley Watt, 81, Restalrig, Edinburgh: "With plastic bags there is always the danger they will burst, which means either you or the shop assistant ends up double bagging, which only adds to the problem. But I'm a bit suspicious of charging – with a big business like M&S it's all about greed, even if they say it is for charity."
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