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Thursday 28 August 2014

Britain to introduce 5p plastic bag charge 12 years after Ireland

Published 04/06/2014 | 11:58

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Customer orders are placed into plastic carrier bags at a Tesco on-line distribution centre. Photo: Steve Dawson/Bloomberg

THE British government has bowed to pressure to introduce a charge on single-use carrier bags to cut litter.

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A 5p charge will be introduced in England from October 2015 to help reduce the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers across the country, many of which end up as litter and harm the environment.

But small retailers will be exempt from the charge, to prevent imposing burdens on start-up and growing businesses, the Government said.

The charge will only apply to plastic bags, and not paper bags which only make up a tiny percentage - 0.1% - of bags given out each year.

In 2012, more than 7 billion single-use carrier bags were handed out in England by supermarkets.

A 5p levy in Wales has shown significant success in reducing the number of carrier bags given out in the country by 75%. Northern Ireland has also brought in a charge, with Scotland set to do so this year.

Ireland was one of the first countries in the world to introduce a plastic bag charge in 2002.

Evidence here suggests that littering involving the bags has decreased by 90pc.

In England, the Government has been under sustained pressure from countryside and environmental campaigners to follow suit and introduce a fee for single use bags, which waste resources, cause litter and can injure marine wildlife.

But plans to introduce a charge in England, unveiled by the Lib Dems last year, have been labelled a "complete mess" by the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee.

MPs on the committee warned plans to exclude biodegradable bags, paper bags and small retailers from the scheme risk confusing consumers and undermining the effectiveness and benefits of the levy.

Experts from Cardiff University's Welsh School of Architecture, who led a study into the effects of the charge in Wales, backed the plans in the Queen's Speech to introduce a bag charge in England.

Dr Wouter Poortinga said: "Our own research has shown that a small charge on bags is popular and a very effective way of changing behaviour.

"We found the bag charge made people more aware of waste and littering. And we also found that people became even more supportive of the charge after it was introduced."

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