The announcement of an exemption for biodegradable bags from an upcoming levy on plastics carriers came as an unwelcome ‘surprise’, plastics experts told a parliamentary committee.
As announced in September 2013, a 5p levy will come into force in 2015. But biodegradable bags will not be included under the charge, and small to medium-sized businesses will also not have to implement the levy.
Speaking at the second hearing of a parliamentary inquiry, Jessica Baker, chief executive of Chase Plastics said industry had been left in the dark over the announcement.
“Colleagues in the reprocessing sector attended the round table event [with Defra] a week prior to the announcement. At that point we felt that was a genuine discussion and we expressed our concerns,” she said.
“Defra had given us the impression that was the start of a debate, whereas then we felt that decision had already been taken. We did try to engage, at that point we felt that we had been ignored.”
Another witness Mike Baxter, director at British Polythene Industries, said that the industry had been involved in the proposal of a carrier bag tax for over 10 years, but the biodegradable exemption “came completely out of the blue”.
Professor Richard Thompson, from Plymouth University, who said to have acted as an adviser for the department, also expressed perplexity.
“I queried Defra because I was curious to understand the motivations behind the exemption. it came to me as the biggest surprise within the proposals,” he said.
MPs then asked the group of witnesses to speculate on what could have been the proposal’s rationale.
Baker said the Government might have realised that a tax was inevitable, but felt it did not want the UK public to pay for their carriers so tried to find exemptions to it.
“But we would argue that if there had to be an exemption that should be on reprocessed plastics bags,” she said.
David Newman, general secretary at the Italian Association of Bioplastics and the Italian Composting Association, said the Government might have taken inspiration from similar policies in Italy, France and Spain.
“The Government might have looked at the rest of Europe and thought some of these things were worth imitating,” he said.
Defra opened a call for evidence on the plastics levy in November 2013. In the document it said: “Carrier bags are useful products and will continue to be needed. Government is looking for UK industry to develop biodegradable plastic carrier bags that have low environmental impacts while still being useful to consumers.”