01 October 2012 10:35
A compulsory charge on carrier bags should be rolled out to the whole of the UK, the Welsh Government's environment minister has said.
Twelve months ago Wales became the first of the home nations to implement such a scheme, with a minimum 5p charge on new carrier bags, the proceeds of which go to charity.
Northern Ireland is set to bring in a similar levy next year, while Scotland and England's governments are yet to make up their minds.
However, Welsh Government environment minister John Griffiths believes that they should follow Wales' lead after the charge was found to reduce single-use carrier bags by up to 96%.
He said: "One year on from the introduction of our 5p bag charge it is obvious it has made a real difference to shopping habits of people here.
"Checkouts across Wales are now full of people using their own bags to carry shopping rather than paying 5p for a new one, and it is really heartening to see people developing sustainable shopping habits. The Welsh experience proves if you want to effectively reduce carrier bag use, a charge really is the best way to go.
"I can see no reason why the charge wouldn't work just as well in other parts of the UK."
Stores with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from keeping records on how many bags they have sold as well as how much money they have raised. Outlets refusing to charge customers could face prosecution – although no local authority has taken such action as yet.
A recent survey claimed 70% of people in Wales were in favour of the new system following its introduction on October 1st last year.
However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) voiced mixed feelings about the charge and stressed a consistent approach would be needed if the scheme became rolled out on a UK-wide basis.
BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said: "Compulsory charging for single use plastic bags is a brutal approach, which risks switching people off from engaging with environmental issues.
"A voluntary and incentivised scheme would be far better - for example people who bring in their own bags are rewarded through coupons or a points scheme.
"The call to reduce single-use carrier bags has become pronounced in recent years. However, the issue is not as important as the environmental impact a product has - how much energy has been needed to make an object or emissions generated as a result of it being transported a long distance.
"In terms of the environment, dealing with these issues are far more important than charging consumers for plastic bags.
"But if politicians are determined to keep pursuing the agenda of introducing a charge, then each nation must adopt a consistent approach in order to avoid confusion among retailers and consumers."