What people say about Carrier Bag Taxes


Alongside the popular spin that carrier bag taxes would help the environment, there is a growing understanding of the real issues and an increasing recognition that such a tax would be just a token and trivial environmental move. Here are some recent views from the public and media.

"But until supermarkets reduce the energy used in their stores, minimise food miles and treat farmers better, saving a few plastic bags is just window dressing"
Tony Juniper, Loan Advisor, 28 January 2008

"Recycling 150 plastic bags, for example, will save about 2kg of CO2, while flying to New York will generate about two tons."
Jonathan Leake, Sunday Times, 16.12.07

" I am strongly against any such levy as clearly in my opinion the amount of bags that are re-cycled by virtue of conveying a means to hold refuse that would otherwise become a serious threat to the cleanliness of our towns has not been taken into account in your pre-assessment analysis. Are you really wishing another repeat of the Great Plague of London - but this time on a nationwide epidemic scale?? "
Les Challen, 28.07.07

"Bad ideas seem worse in times of crisis. Take the lunatic proposal by the London boroughs to tax or ban plastic bags. I’m still waiting to hear what problem this is supposed to be the solution to.
Plastic bags are incredibly efficient compared with most packaging, and how else do you get opportunistic purchases home on the bus? The reason only 1 in 200 of them gets recycled is that recycling facilities for them are so scarce – nowhere more so than in London.
Watch out – councils who support a ban are just trying to wriggle out of their responsibilities. "
Charles Clover, The Daily Telegraph - 27.07.07

"Sir - If a shopper at the supermarket checkout refuses the offer of, say, two plastic bags and places her groceries in her wicker basket, what has she saved (Letters, July 19)?

At considerable inconvenience, she has saved a few grams of polythene. How significant is that compared to the fuel used driving to and from home?

For a typical car, the cost in petrol, measured in plastic-bag equivalent, is roughly one plastic bag for every 100 yards travelled. So our shopper, having started the engine and manoeuvred to the exit, will have expended in petrol close to the two plastic bags she saved by using her basket.

But that is just getting out of the car park. A typical round trip is 12 miles, so the drive to and from the supermarket consumes in petrol the equivalent of 210 plastic bags or so. It is here that our shopper is in a position to make an elective reduction in carbon footprint.

If she drives at 50mph rather than 75mph, there is a 25 per cent reduction in petrol consumption, a saving of 52 plastic bags. Other efficiencies can be obtained by driving without air-conditioning, without a roof rack and with tyres properly inflated and going easy on the accelerator pedal.

The green lobby should forget about plastic bags and concentrate on a worthy target, such as inefficient car travel."
Dr Gerard McCrum, Oxford, Letters to the Editor, The Daily Telegraph - 24.07.07

".......a tax on plastic bags would only address a small part of the waste stream instead of using an economic instrument that would have a wider impact. We doubt that such a tax would decrease plastic bag waste."
The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC)

"The experience in the Republic of Ireland has demonstrated that a tax on plastic bags has unintended consequences. Consumer demand for paper bags in high street stores has led to severe environmental costs in terms of transport and fuel usage as they take up ten times the storage volume of plastic bags."
The Scottish Retail Consortium

"We do not believe that a carrier bag tax is the right way forward and believe carrier re-use is more effective" says Nick Manger-Godfrey, Head of Environmental Management, Waitrose.
Organic Business, January 2003

Following the decision by the Local Government Association (LGA) to lobby for a plastic bag tax to raise public awareness of waste issues, the BRC (British Retail Consortium) has said the levy already operating in Ireland has not seen a real change in plastics consumption.

The BRC said the Irish Plastic bag tax has created other problems since its introduction in 2002 including a 1000% increase in the consumption of bin liners and a rise in shoplifting. It has also seen many shops switch to providing paper carrier bags which are exempt from the material-specific tax.

Nigel Smith, BRC's Corporate Social Responsibility Director, explained:
"If you go out to Ireland and speak to the retailers they, on the whole, would welcome a plastic bag tax. But for high street shopping there is more impact beause it is more spontaneous, unlike a supermarket where people can plan and take their own bags."

He added that in Ireland many high street shops have switched to using paper bags which are more bulky than plastic bags and therefore have transportation and storage issues. "This means four times as much traffic on the roads carting around paper bags." he said.
Nigel Smith, BRC's Corporate Social Responsibility Director

"How dare this Government try to rip people off by charging 9p for supermarket carrier bags and then sugar coating their little scam by pretending it's to protect the environment? This pathetic excuse for yet another electorate rip-off comes with the excuse that in Ireland, where the scheme has been piloted, the streets were littered with carrier bags that take years to decompose - and now they're not.

Well I don't buy it. I live in London where there are 17million people and I have never seen empty carrier bags dumped in the streets. If this Government wants to protect the environment, why don't they tell George Bush, whose country is responsible for nearly 30% of the world's greenhouse gases, to clean up his act first ….. "
Carole Malone Column. Sunday Mirror. 12 May 2002

"Forget Prada handbags and fancy designer shopping bags - the humble supermarket carrier bag is this year's favourite fashion accessory. According to research out today from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions "are you doing your bit?" campaign, the supermarket carrier bag is the that bag that most people would choose to be seen using again and again in public - for everything from carrying their own gym kit to a stroll down the high street. The new research has revealed the supermarket carrier bag to be the most popular plastic bag to re-use - even more popular than designer bags such as Harrods or Gucci, and bags from fashionable high street stores such as Gap and Next. "
DEFRA News Release 650. 18 October 2000

"If the aim were to tackle the litter problem, it would be misguided, as it would fail to address the fundamental cause of litter - people's behaviour. The solution to litter has to be a comprehensive approach aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour. Such an approach would address all litter through a combination of public education, enforcement of the litter laws and local authority cleansing programmes. Any other approach would at best be piecemeal and at worst condone anti-social behaviour."
Industry Council for Packaging in the Environment, Position Paper on Possible UK Plastic Carrier Bag Tax. May 2002

"The Environment Minister is confusing litter with domestic waste. Plastic shopping bags form a relatively small percentage of the litter decorating many British streets and roadside verges. By far the largest amount of litter is discarded take away food wrappings, cigarette packs and drink containers.

Mark Lyons. Ashford, Middlesex.

"The reality of the carrier bag's role in the overall litter problem is by no means proven as even the consultants who carried out the Irish research acknowledge. As so often in these cases, the perception may be at variance with the true facts"
Editorial Comment PRW magazine. 10 May 2002

"A return to paper bags at retailer checkouts instead of plastic seems … a backward step as far as both consumer convenience and the environment are concerned. … the reality from the environmental point of view which, after all is what this debate is all about, is that paper sacks have considerable disadvantages in terms of greater weight, energy use and higher emissions. Studies show that paper bags weigh as much as four times more than their plastic counterparts and take up substantially more space. Not only does this add to transport and storage costs - and the related knock on environmental effects - but it could give local authorities major problems in complying with the Landfill Directive."
Editorial Comment Packaging News magazine. June 2002

"We recycle plastic bags as bin liners. If such free plastic bags are taxed then our family will end up buying just as many plastic bags in the form of purpose-made bin liners (which are generally not as good).
David Ward, Bristol

"The almost complete disappearance of plastic bags from Ireland's convenience stores .... has led to unexpected problems. …the public has been stealing plastic baskets …. used to collect the goods in the shop before packing them into their shopping bags. It has been found that some customers have accumulated up to six of them and they do not bring them back. Another problem is that when customers bring their own large bags, it has been found that these facilitate shoplifting. It has also been noticed that, because of the absence of plastic bags, the customer who arrives without a bag may end up buying less."
Environment Watch magazine 19 July 2002

"What is the sense in imposing a green tax on supermarkets - the sector that has done most to reduce inefficiency and waste in retail distribution during the past 50 years. Packaging has reduced the amount of food that rots before it reaches the consumers . Superstores have also revolutionised distribution, cutting the number of road journeys that would be needed to stock smaller shops. In contrast local authorities in charge of household waste collection are grossly inefficient, yet push up their prices ahead of inflation year on year. Wouldn't it be better to levy a 9p tax on council excuses?
S.D. Smith. Riccall. North Yorkshire.

"If there is to be a tax on carrier bags to cut down on waste and pollution, it should be extended to include the biggest street pollutant - MacDonalds cartons."
Duncan Barnes. Croydon, Surrey

"How will my family transport the weekly shop from the Supermarket to home?

By using reusable bags? - No, I don't think so. They will be dirty from prior use and, in time, smelly - Not very hygenic.

By using Cotton carriers? - No, I don't think so. They will absorb spilt milk and smell disgusting - Not very hygenic.

By using paper bags? - No, I don't think so. The American check-out paper bag has all but disappeared (along with the forests), No handles!!

By using paper carriers? - No, I don't think so. Paper handled carriers are just not strong enough, would fail with moisture from thawing frozen foods and use up trees!

By using old cartons? - No, I don't think so. Why would I want to put my groceries into a recycled carton? Strictly speaking, not allowed to have direct contact with food.

By using black bin bags? - No, I don't think so. Made from recycled carriers and, therefore, unacceptable for food contact.

By using existing carriers costing 5-10p? No, I don't think so. Why should we specifically pay for something which has been a free service provided by the stores?

Let's just stay with the current system and let's ensure they don't litter the countryside."
A Concerned Shopper

"The Packaging Federation and its members play an active part in interfacing with Government on data and consultations, compliance scheme operations, and importantly, physically investing in recycling. Thus, producer responsibility is embraced. However, this goodwill should not be abused by extending the current system on a piece-meal basis through stealth taxes on products such as carrier bags and bottles. As seen elsewhere in Europe, these tend to have longer-term negative impacts - environmental and fiscal."
The Packaging Federation Response to the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit Discussion Paper on Waste

"I don't believe it would be popular with customers because they don't want
to pay for a carrier bag. Anecdotally, when they get to a checkout they
will do things like get a rucksack out and load it. Then, when they can't
fit everything in, they will have to unload it. So you'll then have
tremendous problems with the time customers spend queuing at checkout,
adding enormous amounts of time to their shopping trip"

"......On the one hand there's the carrier bag, which weighs a very small amount and uses little plastic. On the other, we find people feeling that they would like to borrow a trolley or shopping basket to take home their shopping."

"......We've designed a plastic tray that is reusable and has a lifetime of at least ten years. At the end of that lifetime, it gets shredded and recycled to make new trays."

Leonie Smith, Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Tesco in
"Resource" Magazine Sept/Oct 2002.

"There is no obvious benefit to a bag tax, which seems to be part of a rather arbitrary approach to the problem of recycling. Taxing shoppers for their bags is only displacing the problem."

Andrew Simmons, Chief Executive, Recoup.