Baroness Kate Parminter writes….5p charge on “icons of throwaway society is a victory for the environment”

Welcome to Portreath.It’s great to see the Queens Speech include a commitment to reduce the use of plastic bag carriers to help protect the environment.  It’s an issue I’ve campaigned on since I came to the Lords in 2010.

We used 7 billion single use carrier bags in UK supermarkets in 2012.  Plastic bags are highly visible litter on our streets and in our countryside; pose a threat to wildlife and their disposal contributes to our green house gas (GHG) emissions, taking 500 to 1,000 years to degrade.

Following the introduction of a charge in 2002 in the Republic of Ireland plastic bag use fell by 90% and raised millions in revenue.  An equally dramatic drop in usage came after Wales introduced a similar levy. Whilst in England Plastic bag usage has been rising in recent years. Successful schemes around the world have removed billions of plastic bags from circulation and raised valuable funds.  Our plan to charge 5p for each single use carrier bag will result in vital funds going to local good causes.

At a time of tight budgets, some of you may feel uneasy about asking people to pay more when they go shopping.  But if shoppers take their own bags they don’t have to pay and there is the huge hidden costs they are paying through their council tax for disposing of these bags in household waste. Furthermore, we have ensured that small and medium-sized businesses will be exempt from the charge to avoid imposing burdens on start-up and growing businesses in England at a time when the Liberal Democrats are working hard to create a stronger economy.

A charge on plastic bags here will also raise the national consciousness about the role each one of us can, and must play if we are to tackle collectively the problems of litter and respond to the challenge of climate change.  Putting a levy on these icons of a throwaway society is a victory for the environment, and for wildlife, and shows that Liberal Democrats are fighting to make a better society for us all.

* Kate Parminter is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and spokesperson on DEFRA matters

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  • Andrew Colman 4th Jun '14 - 4:40pm

    I consider my self pro-green, but I do not agree with this 5p plastic bag charge

    I re-use Tesco bags for many purposes from bin bags to keeping clothes dry whilst hiking outdoors. I see the charge as petty nanny state.

    A government serious about the environment would be acting to end the school run, getting kids to walk cycle and or bus to school thus keeping fit and reducing traffic. But this would upset the dinosaurs in the road lobby.

  • Graham P Davis 4th Jun '14 - 4:40pm

    When Bracknell residents, unhappy with fortnightly bin collections, complained a few years ago about smell from bins in hot weather, the local council told us to double-wrap each item of waste in plastic bags before putting them in the bin.

    Presumably, the 5p charge applies to plastic shopping-bag and not the small bags provided in shops and supermarkets for customers to put loose veg and fruit in?

    When I occasionally need a plastic shopping bag, I get a bio-degradable one. Still 5p?

  • Andrew Colman 4th Jun '14 - 5:05pm

    Secondly, I am disturbed about easing the rules on fracking

    If fracking is such a great idea, the government should set up a fracking investment bond. This bond would cover potential damage from fracking underwriting insurance policies. On maturity, the bond will receive a significant proportion of the nations profits from fracking. If fracking is safe and a money spinner, these bonds will be very lucrative and make loads of money for investors. If fracking turns out to be unsafe ie loads of insurance claims, little profits, then the bonds will make a loss

  • When I occasionally need a plastic shopping bag, I get a bio-degradable one. Still 5p?

    No, they’re going to be exempt, apparently.

  • “Perhaps a better way to tackle the problem of bio-degradability would be to encourage stores to provide paper, rather than plastic bags for single use purposes?”

    Paper bags are also going to be exempt.

  • kate parminter 4th Jun '14 - 5:37pm

    @Graham P Davis: Thanks for this. To be clear, biodegradable bags and the small bags provided for loose fruit and veg aren’t included in the 5p charge.

  • We’ve had this in Wales for some years now, good to see England catching up so late in the day.

  • Peter Hayes 4th Jun '14 - 5:55pm

    Move back to paper bags. When I used to work for an American company I noticed the supermarkets used brown paper bags and the company had brown bag meetings where you brought your lunch in a reused bag for and eat and chat meeting. The only need for plastic bags is to contain juice etc. However I must admit the several charity bags a week where I live make very good swing bin liners and end up in landfill!

  • Graham P Davis@

    Just get used to carrying a small re-useable bag around with you, some fold down small enough to fit on a key ring.
    My husband has got used to doing it, not carrying a handbag is no handicap.

  • Andrew Colman 4th Jun ’14 – 5:05pm
    Secondly, I am disturbed about easing the rules on fracking
    ” If fracking is such a great idea, the government should set up a fracking investment bond. This bond would cover potential damage from fracking underwriting insurance policies. …..”

    Nice idea, Andrew Colman. I guess you know that it will not happen.?
    It will not happen for the same reason that such a rational approach does not apply to nuclear power either. Indeed our Liberal Democrat Secretary of State has made things worse with his deal which subsidises Hinkley C with no protection from potential disasters.
    How odd that we should be discussing this on the day that the BBC has revealed the scandal of Dungeness nuclear power station having the safety goalposts moved by the “independent” nuclear inspectorate so that it is not shut down.

    Or perhaps someone thought that with the Queen’s Speech and attention on fracking this would be a good day to “bury news” of a nuclear scandal?

  • In Wales we pay 5p for every bag from every shop including those paper ones from card shops. Why is this not happening in England? We soon got used to it and dutifully use our bags for life and hessian bags with no problems. Did the government run scared about implementing this in England and so introduced this half measure?

  • daft ha'p'orth 4th Jun '14 - 8:28pm

    Ah, the paper grocery bag. Not a bad idea in places where it doesn’t rain all the time, but when it does rain on your shopping then those bags dissolve fast.

    Saving the planet, one hessian bag at a time…

  • For generations people coped perfectly well without plastic shopping bags.
    They are of no real practical help to anybody.

    Why only 5p. ????

    For the people in leafy London suburbs like mine who fill their Chelsea tractor with ten bags of shopping in plastic carriers every week, the extra 50p on their bill of well over £100 pounds will not even be noticed.

    These are people who spend a small fortune on petrol to get them to the supermarket in a vehicle designed for off-road trekking because they like to look fashionable. It will take more than 5p tax to convince the Jeremy Clarkson brigade.

    Why not a £2 tax per bag ?

  • Yet another headline grabbing measure with little real practical impact.

    Yes we use a lot of plastic shopping bags and we should discourage their usage, however we shouldn’t let this blind us to all the plastic bags in our shopping: frozen food (the typical frozen vegetable or oven chips bag contains more plastic (and of the a consistently higher grade) than a shopping bag, likewise the bread bag and the bags used for breakfast cereals. Plus lets not forget all the plastic used in the supply chain: six packs of bake beans come wrapped in plastic.

    No what is really needed is for some standardisation of plastics used and forcing councils to include plastic bags/film in the recycling (yes we need a national minimum standard for recycling – its not difficult given we now have nearly 30 years of experience of council run recycling). Given plastic film recycling has been in existence for decades (as has expanded polystyrene recycling) , this isn’t something new and untried, and a target of near zero plastic going in the black bin (from both residential and business premises) isn’t unachievable, just needs the political will…

  • daft ha'p'orth 4th Jun '14 - 10:53pm

    I know you already know this, really, but 5p, because most people don’t live in leafy suburbs of London and most people don’t have very much money or a Chelsea tractor.

    Indeed, this will have a significant impact on people who survive off discounted food (and who can’t throw money away with gay abandon on ruddy hessian handbags) and will have no impact on the lifestyles of the well-off at all, but ain’t that always the way…

  • @daft ha’p’orth – can’t see how this will have much impact on the people you mention, these are the type of people who already carry plastic carrier bags around.

  • daft ha'p'orth 5th Jun '14 - 12:03am

    Roland: Can’t say I always used to carry a bunch of old plastic bags , but I did do a lot of searching for discounts after my shifts were over on the off-chance. By nature, that was more opportunistic than taking the car down to Waitrose or whatever.

    Anyway, whatever, hurrah, we’ll save the environment by charging 5p for plastic bags. And make a lot of VAT for the treasury according to the Telegraph, too, unless that’s changed since. Is the rest of the money still going to ‘charity’? If so, which ones, and who decides?

  • Stephen Donnelly 5th Jun '14 - 12:50am

    Plastic bags are awful, but so it this tax.

    This is the beginning of a cascade of intervention. Why stop at plastic bags ? There are so many other things that some people don’t like that we could tax. Providing it is something you disapprove of you will be in favour, but when the tax is imposed on something you do not disapprove of, you will object, but by then we will have a mass of painful disruptive taxes, a whole industry set up to avoid them, and bus loads of regulators to enforce them.

  • Reducing plastic bag use is desirable, and this measure has evidence backing it. It’s nice to see this environmentally friendly evidence based policy.

    But, is this the Lib Dem achievement for this Queen’s Speech? You’re going to go to the electorate and say ‘vote for us, we’re responsible for you paying 5p for each plastic bag you use’ and expect it to be a vote winner?

    To be frank, that seems a strategy which is unlikely to be successful.

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Jun '14 - 8:40am

    I did my shopping online, a couple of weeks ago. I would normally use about 5 quite large reusable bags; it arrived in about 20 disposable plastic bags. I took them back to the supermarket next time I went shopping. This rule will have interesting effects on on-line shopping, I expect.

  • Stephen Donnelly 5th Jun ’14 – 12:50am
    This is the beginning of a cascade of intervention. Why stop at plastic bags ?
    ……….by then we will have a mass of painful disruptive taxes, a whole industry set up to avoid them, and bus loads of regulators to enforce them.

    THE END OF CIVILISATION AS WE KNOW IT . The thin end of the wedge. Who knows what horrors might follow ??

    Stephen, You don’t think you are over-reacting just a little, old chap? Rushing around like a headless chicken because of your deep-seated belief in everyone’s god-given right to litter the planet with unwanted plastic might be seen as disproportionate.

  • Linda Forbes 5th Jun '14 - 10:09am

    Fiddling while Rome burns in my view. If we’re serious about reducing the impact of plastic on the environment then we need to tackle this way upstream, at the manufacturing stage. With plastic microspheres now having entered the food chain and being detected in human blood, and plastic litter killing fish, seabirds, and terrestrial mammals we need to stop making the stuff. Ultimately there’s no such place as ‘away’ to throw things – only somewhere else on the planet. For a little bit (or lot depending on your PoV) of plastic convenience, we’re poisoning our living quarters.

  • So, ‘the greenest government ever’ is…… charging for plastic bags? That’s it? Oh and letting fracking go ahead.

  • @daft ha’p’orth – agree with the sentiments about saving the environment, also yes this does seem to be another ‘tax’ that conveniently bypasses the Treasury (just like many of the government imposed additions on our energy bills) – at 5p per bag that’s potentially up to £350m to “local good causes” or “charity” – but as you intimate the there is vagueness around whether the charge includes VAT and what the monies will be spent on.

    I’m a little amused that this is being claimed as a LibDem policy victory, when the Daily Mail has been campaigning on this issue for 6 years (ie. prior to 2010) … Perhaps the Daily Mail isn’t so out of touch as some commenter’s would want us to believe…

    I was going to recommend the use of “bags for life” – given that currently supermarkets will replace these for free when they become un-usable, however, after reading this article in yesterday’s Independent – , I suspect that some re-education around food hygiene and safety will be necessary.

  • As a sales assistant in a well known supermarket I welcome this charge as I see people taking liberties with free bags, I.e they may have had about 10 but require one just for half a dozen eggs…..I’m sure that when they have to pay 5p they will put them on top of other stuff!!!!
    On the other hand, “free” bags are not really free you pay the cost in your shopping so will that mean the cost of grocererys will reduce???? Or will the fat cats still be as greedy.

  • Nick Collins 5th Jun '14 - 5:42pm

    @ Trace.

    So what happened to “the customer is always right”?

    I use my own bags for most of my shopping, but I always ask for a plastic bag for my eggs. I do this deliberately, because I want to keep the eggs separate from the rest of my shopping in case one of them cracks. For similar reasons (basic hygiene) I usually ask for a plastic bag for raw pork and chicken: because I do not want the juices thereof to leak onto other food – especially not onto fruit which I am going to eat raw or cooked (ready to eat) meat.

    Most of the check-out staff in my local supermarket seem to regard this as perfectly reasonable: or are they just being polite?

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Jun '14 - 8:09pm

    Roland 4th Jun ’14 – 10:30pm
    I agree with several of your points Roland and you highlight other uses of plastics.

    My thought is perhaps we, as campaigners and as a country, can’t see the wood for the trees on this topic. In our household a good 75% of what goes in the ‘landfill bin’ consists on certain rigid plastic containers the council say they can’t collect and a significantly larger quantity of flexible packaging – that is paper bags, salad bags, fruit bags, crisp bags, chocolate bar and biscuit packs etc. The list is almost endless.

    If we take the example of a dried fruit bag, this might typically have the structure:
    Coextruded (i.e. multilayer) polypropylene//Printing ink (i.e. the design//Laminating adhesive//Polyethylene.

    With the best will in the world, it is not possible to commercially separate and recycle the different components of this structure. Nor should we jump to the conclusion that packaging doesn’t actually protect food and ensure that it actually remains in good condition longer than it would if simply placed in a paper bag. I am absolutely not however arguing that many examples of over-packaging do not exist. They clearly do.

    John Pugh, Lib Dem MP for Southport, and asker of all manner of good questions (now how’s that for a cryptic reference!) recently hosted a Parliamentary reception covering the Plastics 2020 and other initiatives.
    The Plastics 2020 Challenge was founded in 2009 with the aim of engaging the public in a nationwide debate about the use, reuse and disposal of plastics and with the aim of diverting plastics from landfill by 2020. The campaign highlights the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle, recover.

    Now returning to my dried fruit bag; being as we can’t reduce the amount of plastic it contains much further (there are good technical reasons for this), nor put it to any meaningful reuse or recycle it, I believe that we should convert such waste into a form that might be used as a partial substitute for coal in such power stations. Not only would this divert waste from scarce and expensive landfill but also liberate the large quantity of energy contained within the plastic, not to mention reduce imports of foreign coal and replace it with an environmentally cleaner ‘fuel’.

    I commend the proposal to our Noble Baroness!

  • Stephen Hesketh 5th Jun '14 - 8:18pm

    By the way – we do use ‘bags for life’ and, when we get them, reuse the ‘disposable’ bags next time we go shopping, finally we use some of these to hold ‘pet waste’ before placing in the bin or as peddle big inserts.

  • @Stephen Hesketh
    I agree a big challenge with recycling plastics is both the varieties of pure plastics and the composites such as the dried fruit bag and the juice/milk carton.

    Which in turn introduces a small problem, the simplest seems to be to do as you suggest and use them as fuel (I seem to remember a few years back that a similar approach was taken with car tyres and that several power plants are now in operation across the UK). This however, goes against the spirit of the four R’s; but if stopping plastics entering the environment is important then we should probably go with it…

    I think with some packaging we are approaching a point where we have to make a hard decision: do we minimise the materials used which would seem to favour composites or do we use more packaging but facilitate the four R’s and were appropriate – such as carrier bags – set standards for materials used.

  • daft ha'p'orth 6th Jun '14 - 12:33am

    Nasty thought, the food poisoning. Maybe that’s why they tended to sell cotton bags in Germany, which can be machine-washed in warm water, instead of jute, which generally doesn’t like water much unless treated/laminated, or plastic bags-for-life. I’ve found recommendations online that one wash shopping bags after every shopping trip. Now idly wondering about the relative environmental impact of single-use bags/liners versus use of a washing machine 🙂

    I wonder how often materials are chosen for marketability rather than appropriateness to the life that a shopping bag would ideally need to have…

  • Leekliberal 6th Jun '14 - 9:33am

    It won’t change the the world but this Bill is a no brainer and you have to ask why it’s taken so long for the Coalition to get round to it.

  • Richard Underhill 30th Jul '16 - 11:15am

    BBC reports plastic bag use reduced from 7.64 thousand million to 640 million.

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