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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Scots count cost of plastic bags
Plastic bags in supermarket   BBC
Ireland has curbed plastic bag use
Every plastic bag shoppers take from a big national retailer in Scotland will from now on cost them a modest amount.

B&Q, which says it is the UK's largest home improvement retailer, has brought in a charge of five pence per bag to limit their use and reduce pollution.

The chain has been giving away more than seven million bags a year across Scotland, and is expecting a 90% drop.

If the scheme is a success, B&Q plans to introduce it across the UK, not only to cut litter but to benefit wildlife.

Landfill sites

The proceeds from the bag levy will be given to Keep Scotland Beautiful, which campaigns to reduce urban and rural litter.

B&Q asked more than 12,000 people across the UK for their views on and use of plastic bags.

The answers showed:

  • 47% of those asked had more than 20 bags at home, and 9% up to 80
  • 40% felt guilty at not re-using more of the bags they had
  • 73% were annoyed at neighbourhood litter caused by plastic bags
  • 46% took home up to 10 bags with their shopping each week.
The chain believes Scots are hoarding more than 70 million bags in their homes, many of them destined eventually to end in landfill sites, where they can take up to 500 years to decompose.

Accident risk

Plastic litter of all descriptions is blamed for suffocating and strangling a million seabirds and 100,000 mammals annually worldwide.

Stuart Boags, B&Q's director of operations in Scotland, said: "The evidence of the negative impact of plastic carrier bags on wildlife and the environment is clear.

Rubbish piled up in back lane   BBC
Bags cause litter and harm wildlife
"Through this pilot we hope to show that we and our customers can benefit the environment through reducing the use of these bags".

John Summers of Keep Scotland Beautiful said: "Vets treat thousands of cases of animals hurt by rubbish each year and amongst those are cases where horses, cows and even domestic pets have choked on plastic.

"We have also heard of incidents where bags have blown on to windscreens causing car accidents."

Stuart Boags told the BBC: "The big reason why we're doing this is because we want to change the behaviour of Scots.

"If the charge works here we hope to extend it to the rest of the UK. If there are detrimental effects to our business, then we'll look at it again.

Unforeseen effects

"We recognise that you don't always need plastic bags for DIY products, unlike food, but we do hope other retailers will follow our lead."

A levy on plastic bags was introduced in Ireland in March 2002, and several other countries are trying the same approach.

One recycling expert said there was some evidence the use of paper bags in Ireland had increased dramatically in the wake of the levy, and called for more evidence that people's behaviour really did change.

The number of plastic bags given out by the nine main supermarket chains in the UK is estimated at 17.5 billion annually - enough to cover the whole of England within 21 years.

Call for levy on plastic bags
28 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Irish bag tax hailed success
20 Aug 02  |  Europe

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