The Packaging and Films Association (PAFA) has condemned the announcement of a 5p single-use plastic carrier bag charge for England as a “political diversion”.
Barry Turner, chief executive of PAFA, said that deputy prime minister Nick Clegg’s announcement sends a mixed message and ignores Environment Agency studies showing plastic carriers have lower overall impacts than any other material when properly reused and recycled.
Retailers with less than 250 employees will be exempt from the plastic bag charge.
“It is potentially anti-competitive to exempt smaller retailers particularly after the last four years during which the retailers have invested in infrastructure at front of store to allow consumers to return bags for recycling,” Turner said.
“This is a missed opportunity - the plastic carrier and the front of store return scheme could have been extended and further encouraged.”
PAFA also said that to avoid contravening EU competition law the tax would have to apply to all bag materials - not just plastic - and to all retailers.
Michael Flynn, chairman of the Carrier Bag Consortium (part of PAFA) said: “At a time when the Government faces serious international issues and the UK retail sector continues to suffer from the difficult economic environment, we are deeply saddened that, yet again, taxes on carrier bags have risen up the political agenda.
“This is obviously a symbolic political decision not an environmental or scientific one.”
Early this year, the UK Government came under pressure to introduce a levy on single use bags from a consortium of pressure groups, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. But in May Lord de Mauley seemed reluctant to impose a carrier bag charge until more evidence had been gathered.
The charge is set to come in from Autumn 2015.
Clegg also announced plans to incentivise the use of biodegradable bags, which will be exempt from the charge if they meet a certain standard.
Barry Turner told MRW that this may “send the wrong message to consumers that they can litter with impunity.”
He also called the plans “wholly unsupportable” as biodegradable bags are designed to become waste and they have no quality standard for regulation.
Defra confirmed that it has been seeking advice from industry members about biodegradable bags.
However, Turner said the advice stage is not yet complete and he was surprised that Clegg announced the plan. He highlighted that different bags behave differently depending on the environment in which they are discarded and cause varying levels of harm.
He added that it is crucial to make sure these bags do not affect the recycling infrastructure.
He concluded: “It is unclear what (Defra) are trying to achieve with this.”
Former WRAP director Phillip Ward also warned that Defra needs to be clear about the differences between oxydegradable and biodegradable bags and how they function in waste streams.