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Monday, 6 May, 2002, 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK
Tax on plastic bags considered
Each supermarket bag could cost 9p in future
The UK Government is considering a 9p tax on supermarket carrier bags to cut down on waste generated in Britain.

Environment minister Michael Meacher has been following a scheme in the Republic of Ireland, where supermarkets charge for bags usually handed out free.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said Mr Meacher was "interested" in a similar scheme for the UK.

However, he dismissed newspaper speculation that there was a commitment for it to be introduced within two years.

The number of plastic bags is a problem and the fact that so many go into landfill sites is a problem

Defra spokesman
He said: "Mr Meacher is interested in the Irish scheme, but there is no commitment to whether or not this is a good idea for the UK.

"There are concerns about the number of plastic bags that are routinely handed over by supermarkets.

"The number of plastic bags is a problem and the fact that so many go into landfill sites is a problem.

"Whether or not this would be a solution that would work in the UK - we would need more information."

10bn bags a year

It was reported on Sunday that the tax would be imposed on the supermarkets with a stipulation that they must pass it on to shoppers by charging for individual bags.

A Marks & Spencer carrier bag
The move is aimed at cutting household waste
This would prevent any large chain from attempting to court popularity by paying the tax on customers' behalf, said the Sunday Telegraph.

Supermarkets welcomed the idea, with Asda saying it was "in everyone's interest", and Tesco saying it was important that environmental targets were reached.

About 10 billion plastic bags are given away at supermarket checkouts each year in Britain, costing the stores an estimated 1bn.

Plastic supermarket bags are a major cause of litter and take several years to decompose naturally.

See also:

04 Mar 02 | Europe
Shoppers face plastic bag tax
04 Mar 02 | Northern Ireland
NI shoppers 'would bring their own bags'
04 Mar 02 | Europe
A world drowning in litter
03 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Taiwan to ban free plastic bags
14 May 01 | South Asia
Bombay gets tough on plastic bags
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