Home > Environment, Irish Politics, UK Politics, Welsh Politics > Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010- The Welsh 5p Bag Tax

Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010- The Welsh 5p Bag Tax

As of 1st October, shoppers in Wales will have to pay a minimum of 5p per carrier bag they use, in an attempt by the Welsh Government to dramatically cut down on the excessive number of bags used in Wales each year. The legislation forces retailers in Wales to keep a record the number of bags they issue, and accounting where proceeds from the carrier charge are used. There is mixed support at this time addressing the introduction of the charge and will be hard to foresee how it will be perceived by the public in Wales.

The types of bags included within the legislation are as follows:

  • Plastic
  • Paper-e.g. Fast Food Restaurant paper bags etc
  • Part Plastic
  • Recycled
  • Degradable plastic – (due to the confusion over which locations do degradable over those who don’t, they too will be subjected to the charge). -Welsh Government

The Environment Minister (John Griffiths AM) comments following his decision:

  • “Last year in Wales we took home on average 273 carrier bags per household from the major supermarkets alone, and this figure does not even account for the number of bags we pick up when shopping on the high street or at smaller stores.”
  • “Most of these bags are completely unnecessary. They end up cluttering up our cupboards, littering our country or sitting in landfill sites where they take between 500 and 1000 years to degrade.”
  • “The carrier bag charge is all about helping us to cut down on the number of carrier bags we use. It is a policy that has been welcomed by people across Wales and really is good news for our country”

Wales is the first nation within the UK to pass legislation introducing a levy on single use carrier bags. There had been attempts in Scotland a few years back but lacked (Scottish) parliamentary support to take it any further.

  • John Griffiths -“I am proud that we in Wales are taking the lead in the UK in introducing a charge. This will ensure that people are thinking, and talking, about the problem of single use carrier bags. They are a waste of resources, a problem as litter and a symbol of the throwaway society.”

The fact that Wales has introduced another first can provide a positive feeling that the  National Assembly, and its government are leading the way on a variety of issues. Others deem it to be, yet another guinea pig experiment before the rest of the UK considers the matter further.

Neighbours in the Irish Republic have already seen a levy placed on single use carrier bags for just under a decade, Ireland reported a 94% drop in the use of the plastic bags as a result of the levy which saw a 33€c charge (30p equivalent in the UK) in just two weeks after it was introduced. So the question to be seen is will the successes seen by our neighbours in Ireland be mirrored here in Wales? It at this present day remains to be seen and only strong guesses can be made. The Government believe that according to current day behaviour it would see an approximate £2.6 million being raised and should go to the charities/ local environmental groups.

The issue surrounding the actual charge had to been raised in Ireland too, but had been rebutted with the argument that it still provides choice while making people think about and change their behaviour/habits.  The legislation in regards to Wales does not go into depth over where peoples 5p“tax” will go, other than it is up to the individual retailer, but they state that the government hopes the retailers will donate the money to charity or local environmental groups, but remains a voluntary option rather than a compulsory one.  This part of the legislation had seen the most negativity, due to the fact it arguably allows yet another opportunity for retailers to “line their pockets”. The Government argues that public pressure would and could ensure otherwise, they will also create a voluntary code of practise by which retailers could follow.

There are a number of exemptions to the levy as it is deemed by the Government to apply the charge in certain circumstances.

Types of bag exempt from the charge include

  • Food items that are unwrapped – loose fruit and vegetables, bread, pick and mix sweets etc.
  • Live aquatic creatures in water – fish, coral, crabs etc.
  • Unpackaged blades – axe, knife blade or razor blade.
  • Loose seeds and bulbs.
  • Packaged uncooked fish or meat.
  • Bags on board ships, trains, aircraft, coaches or buses.
  • Medical exceptions – Prescriptions and other medicines from behind the counter

Small businesses employing less than 10 people will be except from noting how many bags were distributed.

The Environment  Minister  further hoped people across Wales attempt to avoid the carrier bag charge altogether:

  • “The idea of the charge is not to make people pay for carrier bags. Rather it is to encourage shoppers to make use of the bags they already have.
  • “We can all avoid the charge by remembering to carry reusable bags when we do our shopping.”
  • “We know that reducing our use of carrier bags is not going to solve all our environmental problems, but the charge does deliver an important message about the need for us to live much more sustainable lives.”

The level of the carrier bag charge has been set at 5p because the Welsh Government believes this is high enough to encourage people to change their shopping habits but not so high that it will deter impulse shopping or place a significant burden on shoppers who have forgotten their reusable bags.

“Recently, figures were published showing that the people of Wales had reduced their carrier bag use by 7% over the last year. I am confident that the charge will help us further drive down carrier bag use and I hope next year’s figures will show another reduction.”

The Government has been blamed for bad communication, in respect that many retailers are still confused where they fit in to the charge. Some believe they are exempt from the charge as they employ less than 10 people but this is not the case, they merely just do not have to maintain a record of the number of bags given out. With less than a month until the legislation kicks in, the government needs to radicalise their message a lot better, they do have a website but the knowledge or knowledge of how to get onto it is slim.

There will be a 3 month “teething stage” granted to retailers to provide time to implement their action plan as well as understanding the legislation. After the 3 months, failure to comply will mean the retailer/provider faces a £5000 fine, and in which the money goes back into the public pot to fund the various public services. Many retailers have already suggested, they will swallow up the charge if possible due to the feeling of embarrassment of trying to communicate the issue, more specifically to tourists who they argue would feel that Welsh shops are stingy.

Some individuals argue that it is a “stupid” or “unnecessary” charge on individuals on such a “small issue”. They believe attention should be instead focused on combating companies and the excessive packaging they create for their products. Others have stated they would rather cross the border than face the 5p per bag charge, ironic as it would probably cost at least £6 in fuel to do so. Its, this such mind frame, that the charge is attempting to persuade to think again. The fact there is obvious differences between how the charges operate, and will operate in the two countries (Wales and Ireland). Wales are charging considerably less at 5p per bag and Ireland first introduced the rate at 33€c (about 30p) , also in Ireland the levy had no affinity to the economy as there is no plastic bag production.

Overall as said there is still confusion over how the legislation will affect businesses in Wales, however there is hope by October 1st, any issues should have been addressed. The perception/ support remains unclear by the public at large with many stating they would shop in England rather than pay a 5p charge (bit ironic when it would cost more in fuel to cross the border in most cases). However the legislation as a whole is a positive step addressing an interesting environmental issue, the government will monitor how the legislation is implemented and further address the issue of waste as a whole over the next few years.

For more info – please look at http://www.carrierbagchargewales.gov.uk/?lang=en for both personal and business information

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