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Sector slams plastic bag charge campaign

Plastic bag associations have branded a new campaign to introduce a charge for single use bags in England as “unfounded” and “cynical”.

The Carrier Bag Consortium (CBC) and the Packaging and Films Association (PAFA) claim that the Break the Bag Habit campaign is unfounded “greenwash” about the actual environmental impact of plastics bags and contradicts Environment Agency evidence.

The campaign, led by Keep Britain Tidy, The Marine Conservation Society and the Council for the Protection of Rural England, wants the government to require retailers to make a small charge for single use bags, after plastic bag use dropped significantly in Wales and Ireland following introduction of a charge.

However the trade associations say that existing voluntary agreements have resulted in 51% less virgin plastic in carrier bags and 65% less carbon impact.

In a letter to all UK MPs and major UK retailers, the trade associations have urged them to stick to this code of practice.

The letter says: “The rigorous Environment Agency Life Cycle Analysis (SC 030148) clearly demonstrates that alternatives to the lightweight plastic bag require far more of the earth’s precious resources to produce and have far higher impacts across a life cycle.

“We believe this new campaign is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts contained in this report and by targeting carrier bags diverts attention and resources from the macro-environmental issues we face.”

Keep Britain Tidy’s campaign claims that the number of carrier bags used in England has increased over the last two years, with a total of eight billion ‘thin-gauge’ plastic bags issued during 2011.

It says that a charge scheme would help cut litter and waste on streets, in the countryside and on our coastline, and it wants the proceeds from the bag charge to be used to fund environmental and recycling schemes.

CBC chairman Paul Marmot said: “Good environmental practice is about reducing impacts, reusing resources and recycling at the end of life.

“The plastic carrier bag offers all of these routes to becoming the most environmentally acceptable solution for carrying goods home because it has the lowest impacts in production and transportation, is reused by around 80% of households (DEFRA/WRAP/IPSOS/MORI 2007 Studies) and can easily be recycled using more than 5,000 collection points at our supermarkets.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • In waste and resource terms what is inside the carrier bags is a much bigger issue than the bags themselves. But in litter and damage to the marine environment there is growing evidence of long term damage. It is the litter interests which are promoting the current campaign.

    We don't need to use single trip bags to anything like the extent we do. It is a habit we have grown into. If we can nudge people out of the habit with a relatively small charge - and the evidence from Wales and Ireland suggests we can - then we should look seriously at this and any other alternatives to weigh up the costs and benefits.

    The voluntary agreement with the Supermarkets has worked reasonably but it seems to be running out of steam. I would have thought that for them a charge would be easier than having to constantly train and police their cashiers to reduce bag usage at the till.

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