Derek Robertson: A cleaner Scotland is in the bag

The Scottish Government has highlighted the particular impact of bag litter on the environment and wildlife. Picture: Getty
The Scottish Government has highlighted the particular impact of bag litter on the environment and wildlife. Picture: Getty
Have your say

RETAILERS all over Scotland will be making final plans this week before the introduction of a mandatory charge of 5p for every bag used at point of sale. Large and small, corner shop or out-of-town supermarket, they will have steps to put in place to ensure the smooth introduction of the charge on Monday, 20 October.

Those plans will be worthwhile and will change Scotland for the better. Indeed, they make possible a win-win for us all, irrespective of what we decide to do when offered the choice to take a bag at the cashpoint.

For those who are persuaded not to take the easy option and use a carrier bag from the checkout, they can be encouraged that their individual action in doing so will ensure that there is one less piece of litter that can find its way on to our streets, one less individual impact on our precious local environment.

And for those who choose to take that carrier bag, they will for the first time face a mandatory charge at the checkout for that convenience, but they will also be winners from the new scheme. They can relish the knowledge that their 5p, and similar payments from all over Scotland, will be put to good use. The Scottish Government has rightly highlighted the particular impact of bag litter on the environment and wildlife, and retailers will be required to ensure that all those individual contributions of 5p will be given to charities who, like Keep Scotland Beautiful, are on the front line of the fight-back on environmental issues.

When the Scottish Parliament approved this new bag charge in May, it was a strategic decision to take a stand on litter and its impact on the environment, and it sets the introduction of the charge in a wider context.

Scotland has a litter problem and the evidence of it is all around us. Have a good look when you next walk the dog in the park, take the car round a roundabout or look at embankments from your railway carriage. As our national environment charity, Keep Scotland Beautiful has, for 40 years, been at the forefront of efforts to clean up that mess and change the attitudes that lead to irresponsible disposal of our waste. The time for further change is now, and with more than 400,000 individual actions contributing to our Clean Up Scotland campaign, it’s clear that more and more people want a stand to be taken on litter and its impact on the environment.

So, in addition to that voluntary clean-up effort and attempts to change littering behaviour, we welcome the bag charge and the impact it will have on the supply of bags, which are both environmentally unsustainable and part of the supply of litter which we find so distasteful.

Tomorrow I’ll be joining the president of the Scottish Grocers Federation, the trade body for the small shopkeeper, as he endorses our campaigning. That partnership proves that – contrary to expectations – local and national retailers recognise the positive impact this charge will have and they relish the difference they will be able to make with the individual contributions made by their customers who take a bag and pay their 5p. That is forward-thinking and insightful, and exactly what you would expect of those retailers with sustainability in their DNA.

There are very few in our society who like change, especially when it comes with a cost associated, or indeed with an administrative burden. However, the evidence from Wales and Northern Ireland is that these new regulations will have a dramatic impact. Based on their experiences, an initial 80 per cent reduction in the number of bags used at the checkout can be expected, and that can only be a good thing for us, for our environment and for the planet we all share.

So, whether you choose to take that bag or not, it’s a win-win either way. «

Derek Robertson is chief executive of the charity Keep Scotland Beautiful