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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 December 2005, 14:46 GMT
Plastic bag tax decision delayed
Carrier bags
MSP Mike Pringle has called the plastic carrier bag a "menace"
MSPs have delayed a decision on whether to endorse a proposal to introduce a tax on carrier bags.

The idea of a 10p levy on every plastic bag issued at the supermarket till was raised by Mike Pringle.

The Liberal Democrat MSP said money raised from the tax could fund environmental projects.

However, the parliament's environment committee wanted more time to address concerns including job losses and the administration of the scheme.

Mr Pringle has been campaigning for a plastic bag tax for the past two years.

Paper increase

He said the levy had been a success in the Republic of Ireland, cutting both litter and pollution.

By introducing a similar scheme in Scotland, he said it would encourage people to reuse supermarket bags, which would be good for the environment.

Under his proposal, the levy would be collected by supermarkets at the tills and passed to the local council, which could then spend the money on environmental projects.

All indications are that at least 80% of all carrier bags are used more than once after they have been taken from the supermarket
Neil Young
Plastic bag distributor

However, plastic bag manufacturers and distributors said the Irish scheme had led to more plastic packaging and a huge increase in the use of paper bags.

Technology consultants said that if sent to landfill, paper bags would give off greenhouse gases while decomposing.

Mr Pringle said: "The plastics industry has held too much sway up to now. They have been scaremongering the whole way through this process.

"Evidence from Ireland has shown that this is a powerful tool for changing consumers' behaviour and the committee has accepted this.

"The idea of a plastic bag levy is still alive and well."

However, Tory committee member Ted Brocklebank said: "There were concerns over potential littering and unnecessary interference in the marketplace.

This has effectively killed off what was an ill-thought out, badly researched and poorly presented piece of legislation
Alasdair Morrison
Scottish Labour

"Caring for the environment is important and whilst we are in favour of measures that encourage individuals to do so, we believe that this bill would have created a number of problems whilst having a minimum effect on plastics waste."

Green MSP and deputy committee convener Mark Ruskell said: "The executive has an opportunity through their proposed waste minimisation strategy to drive the agenda even further by looking at other forms of packaging and litter that could be subject to charges."

Labour MSP Alasdair Morrison suggested ministers would reject the idea of a plastic bag tax, despite the report's recommendation that they consider the option as part of a wider strategy.

"This has effectively killed off what was an ill-thought out, badly researched and poorly presented piece of legislation," he said.

Lib Dem MSP Mike Pringle launching his bag campaign
Mr Pringle has been asked for more details about the proposed tax

"We can change people's attitude to rubbish without taxing them, particularly the less well off, and without asking 700 people in the plastics industry to join the unemployment queue."

Scottish National Party environment spokesman Richard Lochhead said Holyrood's legislative shortcomings meant that if a levy was introduced it could only be done in a "very complex and ineffective manner".

"The SNP will support this bill if it can be proven that it is beneficial for the environment and it can be made workable, but as it stands it is some way off from achieving that," he said.

Stuart Hay from Friends of the Earth said: "Despite the efforts of some responsible retailers, the voluntary approach has failed, so it is vital that the executive builds on this proposal in its waste strategy."

'Massive effect'

Neil Young, a plastic bag distributor from Glasgow, said the tax would be disastrous for his business.

"I employ in my company 150 people across three different sites and it would have a massive effect on our employment", he said.

"All indications are that at least 80% of all carrier bags are used more than once after they have been taken from the supermarket.

"That in itself is a very high rate of recycling. And that's what we would want to encourage - reduce, reuse and recycle."

The executive warned last month that the level of the charge might go up to 12p because of VAT - a claim disputed by Mr Pringle.

On Tuesday the committee also requested a report from Environment Minister Ross Finnie, outlining how the executive's forthcoming waste minimisation strategy might deal with plastic bag use.

We asked you for your views on a plastic bag tax. The following represented the balance of opinions received.

Great idea, though it probably wouldn't collect much revenue as I for one will not be paying it. (I have a shopping bag)
Jeremy Slawson, Plymouth

Do it, without any more wasted time! Will it raise much money? Probably not as people will quickly stop accepting plastic bags. Will it help the environment? Possibly not as we will need to manufacture paper bags, "bags for life" etc. - although the "witches knickers" in every tree might be less prevalent. What will it achieve? It is a clear message to all consumers, week after week, that waste is not acceptable. perhaps it will help kick start a refusal to accept goods with unnecessary packaging.
Dave, East Lothian

I can't believe everyone has fallen for the "paper bags are better" argument. Paper bags are far more bulky to transport (about 10 times) meaning far more fuel is used up transporting them (both to and from the supermarket). Think about all the extra lorries this will mean on the road! The paper is also chemically treated before use. And the fact that they are biodegradable is only useful if they go to landfill. None of this is very green. A friend of mine who investigated this concluded that the environmental impact of paper bags was two to three times that of plastic ones.
Duncan, London

Charging for bags would make people think whether they actually need a bag. Often shops try to force bags on me for only one item of shopping. They are a hazard to wildlife, Bring back old fashioned net bags!
Kerry, Arbroath

I would like to see a provision for being able to put your used plastic bags into a recycle bin at home. At the moment in Kilmarnock we are unable to recycle any plastic using our kerbside collection. We have to go to our local recycling centre. This puts many people off as they have to store rubbish in their house and then take it to the recycling centre. The council are already picking up recyclables why not add plastic bags to the list?
Chris B, Kilmarnock

We recycle plastic bags as bin liners. If such free plastic bags are taxed then our family will end up buying just as many plastic bags in the form of purpose-made bin liners (which are generally not as good).
Mike Davies, Bury

My local B&Q charges customers for plastic bags, which is a great idea because you try and remember to take your own bag and if you forget you buy the bare minimum. Recently a customer at the checkout bought the tiniest battery imaginable and made a fuss when they didn't give her a bag to carry it to her car. How ridiculous! We behave like a nation of lazy, spoilt children!
Jo, Edinburgh

Tesco's profits were posted at more than 2bn this year yet we have to pay 10p a bag to take the goods home from their stores? Supermarkets did away with brown paper bags - which could be recycled - and replaced them with cost effective plastic environmentally unhealthy bags emblazoned with their logo. Maybe the supermarkets should take responsibility for the bags they provide. Whatever they provide the cost is included in the hidden costs of the goods supplied therefore even if an environmentally friendly bag was provided we would be paying for it anyway. An additional tax should not be added.
Fiona, Glasgow

Supermarkets should re-introduce brown paper bags that have been made out of recycled paper. This would mean that every single bag has already been through the recycling process at least once.
Mark Hendrie, Glasgow

Plastic bags in Germany are charged at about 5p each. The majority of people I've seen in supermarkets use reusable ones and very few new plastic ones are taken at the checkout. Do it, it works, it's only lazy people who could really object. The price of a couple of chocolate bars would provide you with enough bags to last 9 or 10 trips to the shop.
Sandy Fox, Derby

I can't see the problem with a bag tax. You've got to pay for them in Lidl anyway, and that makes me for one use my own bag. It seems like a small step, but every bit closer to stopping our spiralling environmental issues the better.
Neil, Aberdeen

Taxing carrier bags is just plain wrong. The root cause is that these simple items can't be recycled like the other plastic related products that go in my recycle bin. Fix this and you fix the issue totally. It makes me angry that my local council can't recycle the bags, so instead I re-use them, usually as a substitute for buying a large black bin bag for my weekly rubbish. This helps offset any environmental impact as well, but can we please talk to the suppliers and get recyclable bags please?
John , Livingston

Bring in this tax now. Charging this tax would encourage people to re-use plastic bags, instead of the lazy option of taking them home and throwing them in the bin.
Denise Hosie, Edinburgh

Asda and Tesco do a bag for life. Asda charge 10p for a stronger bag which is exchanged free for life when it fails - they fail often so need improving. Why not encourage sale of light weight strong canvas or nylon bags with logo's on to advertise, these could be on the same free exchange for life system but would have a much longer life with less waste. After this tax disposable plastic carrier bags when sold to supermarkets, this tax could even be used to lower the tax on lifetime bags. Tax over the top packaging on food and many other items sold in bubble packs as this is far more wasteful. At least free plastic carrier bags can be used as pedal bin liner but bubble packs and plastic food trays are a complete waste.
C A Nicholson, Brigg

We need to catch up with much of the rest of Europe on this and other recycling matters. The real cost of bags will then be clear to everyone. But we also need to look at supermarkets' own over-packaging at some stage soon.
Terry, Haddington

I'm all for a tax on plastic bags. Lidl already charge for their bags and it's becoming a reflex to bring my own bags to use there again. Having to pay for bags will make people think about saving them and using them again. Reduce, reuse and recycle!
Anna Lambert, Edinburgh

Yes, please introduce a bag tax - supermarkets are not helping the environment by giving bags away for 'free'. Does the public know how long it takes for bags to degrade? Find out, you will be shocked.
Mahesh, Ashton

I don't really believe that the introduction of this tax will lead to much of a reduction in the amount of plastic bags taken from supermarkets, after all, it's not really going to be bankrupting anyone. What it will almost certainly do is make people more aware of the environmental impact of what they do, and encourage them to think about whether or not they really need to be using so many plastic bags.
Larry Deyell, Lerwick

I do not believe in the tax, I think this is the wrong way. I noticed last night as I nipped to my local Co-op their plastic bags were made from biodegradable material, dying off in three years. I only ask for a bag when I need them, and all the bags we collect are put in the recycling at Tesco.

We recycle a lot in our family to a point where our wheelie bin is only half full every week. Where is our council-tax rebate for taking such a load from the land fill site? Taxing people isn't the answer, we need to reward people for doing their bit also.
Alan Williamson, Dumfries, Scotland

So the manufactures of plastic bags think it's a bad idea (of course they will!) and the local authorities this it's too complicated. If Ireland can manage it then why can't we? This should be a policy introduced UK-wide given the terrible litter problem we have.
MG, London

I agree with the bill, although I think there should also be a charge on plastic packaging and paper bags.
James, Inverness

Great idea. I always take a plastic box in my car to the supermarket and pop all my buys in without any carrier bags. If you don't drive, then why not take your own shopping bag like most people used to.
Malcolm, Powys

I already use supermarket carrier bags as kitchen bin liners. If they were taxed, then at stores I'd have to start using the larger reusable "bag for life" ones that the supermarkets also supply - but then I'd have to actually buy bin liners which would still have to be disposed of. Are they going to be taxed too, or should I use them as carrier bags? I also do most of my grocery shopping on the internet now, so the option not to use carrier bags is not available. Given that it has to be greener for one delivery van to do lots of deliveries than for everyone to drive to the store themselves, am I now to be taxed for already making a contribution to reduction in fossil fuel consumption? This whole thing hasn't been thought through properly.
Chris, London

I can't see the tax as being the way forward. Plastic bags are already re-used a lot of the time, and the drive should really be towards biodegradable bags. This method risks just becoming another cash cow for the government, which isn't much of an incentive to stop people from wasting them.
Nathanael Rouillard, Coventry

Edinburgh University students have just voted to charge for plastic bags in our union shops as a way of further reducing demand. In support of a plastic bag levy we had a demonstration last week which got into the Evening News and The Herald. However, I strongly believe that the bill has to be workable so it may be that it needs the executive to take this on and come up with a better solution along the same principles.
Ben, Edinburgh

Why is this even being debated - is it not the most logical thing to do? Other countries such as Germany for example have been charging for plastic bags for the past 20 years or so. This has the effect that everyone uses reusable bags made of cotton, which are much stronger and much more environmentally friendly.
Carolin Sommer, Amersham

We need to reduce the amount of plastic waste we create and this proposed tax is a good way to start that process. Once you start to think about the amount of waste you produce it can be quite easy to cut back, and adding a charge will help a lot of people to stop and think. Put the tax in place now.
Gregor McAbery, Aberdeen

This is a shame but not entirely unpredictable. Give-away plastic bags - particularly from supermarkets are a menace. I try to take reusable bags with me. Some shops seem to insist you take a bag - at my local Somerfield the staff try to bag your newspaper in the morning - I want it to read not to carry!
Rob, Edinburgh

Every day I see plastic bags blowing about the streets and public spaces with sandwich shop and supermarket logos on them. These bags end up stuck in hedges and trees and lying by the side of the road and on the grass verges. How ridiculous to quote a manufacturer of plastic bags, a proponent of this waste, in this debate. These supermarkets and sandwich shops for their own convenience are dumping thousands of plastic bags onto customers who are too lazy to bring a bag with them to the shop. How cowardly of the Scottish parliamentarians to shirk their responsibilities for keeping our streets and neighbourhoods clear of this rubbish.
John, Glasgow

Do what B&Q does and charge for bags. This tax will achieve zero towards environmentalist issues. An increased use of paper bags would result.
Neil Small, Scotland

We should make them biodegradable or introduce the tax. When you see images of landfill sites all you can see is plastic bags flying around all over the place. We should also encourage supermarkets to get people to recycle. I know Sainsbury's used to give 1p to charity every time someone recycled a bag or get checkout operators to keep asking people if they have their own bags to use.
Alison, Edinburgh

In Germany there are no shops that give you plastic bags free of charge. 99% of shoppers take their own bags with them, mostly cotton bags which can be used for years, are washable and best of all as they are more sturdy than plastic bags.
Elizabeth Blinstrub, Kirberg, Germany

Not only are most carrier bags reused (even if just for the rubbish), most are now biodegradable and not the environmental issue they once were. But the bag tax idea is silly not just because of this. When you look at the amount of packaging on the shopping we place in the carrier bag, the carrier is only a tiny amount in comparison. So much of what we buy today is more packaging than substance. Address this issue first with the industry and you'll make much more impact than ridiculous ideas like carrier bag taxes.
Steve Sharpe, Sheffield

The charge should definitely be introduced. If there are worries that it will just increase the usage of paper bags instead then why not put the charge onto any bags which are from supermarkets? This will definitely reduce waste.
Fran, Bradford

Probably a good idea, however I am sure it would get abused like the rest and the money would not go to the projects for which it was originally intended.
Dave McG, Balmullo

Rather than a tax on plastic bags, it would be better to have more recycle points for plastic bags, where the used bags could be fed back into the system. While I want to be green, I still don't feel comfortable going round the supermarket, picking up my shopping, with a pile of used bags, especially if they originated from other shops.
Al, Fife

I simply cannot believe the assertion that 80% of carrier bags are reused and would like to know the details of the research on which it is based. Based on personal experience it sounds rather like he made it up on the spot.
Richard, London

I have long been in favour of a bag tax as a regular visitor to the Irish Republic. It makes you think twice when you can have a brown paper carrier free and it is 15 cents for a plastic bag. Also they have litter wardens walking the streets. If it is cost effective in the small towns like Fermoy I cannot see the problems in the larger cities.
Terence Lines, Halesowen

A tax may be an incentive to get people to reuse bags but how about forcing supermarkets to accept them back for recycling? Our local supermarket previously had plastic bag recycling but now has a local authority recycling point which doesn't accept the plastic bags people return. So they go in the bins instead.
Duncan, St Andrews

I bought a number of 10p "bags for life" from my local supermarket, some years ago, and have used them ever since. They are replaced occasionally, at no cost, if they wear out. The supermarket then turns scrapped ones into garden seats.
Graham Noyce, St Ives

Why don't they charge the supermarkets the bag tax? They issue the bags!
David McDowell, UK

I have enough saved plastic bags in the house to last a lifetime but do I remember to take them to the supermarket? Tax me now!
Emma Darling, Perth

I think it is a wonderful idea, since more or less most people regardless of their social standards need to "punished somehow" in order to stop littering the environment! Unfortunately we are facing the same problem in Greece! Recycling is a good solution but most people don't really bother!
John Papageorgiou, Athens, Greece

Seems a 'no brainer' to me. Plastic bags when dumped are not biodegradable. Their use should not be encouraged and a tax to encourage this is a good idea. However when degradable bags are produced this is less of an issue.
Sam, London

Despite its environmentally friendly pretensions, this proposal is flawed. What would the chancellor do with all our 10 pences? Build nuclear power stations probably.
Chris B, Bedford

Why must every initiative be a tax? Do something more useful to reduce the problem. I have on just one occasion been given a 'plastic' bag that is biodegradable. So how about free biodegradable bags and make shops sell any alternative. The power of the major supermarkets will soon bring down the cost of more useful biodegradable bags. This is surely better than a tax which gives no encouragement to the alternative.
Jeff Herschel, Flackwell Heath, Bucks

I think in principal this is a good idea. However 10p is a high charge. I think a 5p charge is better and there should be a facility to return bags to shops to receive 3p back. This would probably not make the average consumer return their plastic bags - but I can imagine some businessman (patent pending! ) doing door to door and purchasing bags back from consumers at a discount.
Matt Powell, Rogerstone, Wales

Absolutely ridiculous. Tax the bags! It's the only thing that will encourage reuse. Right now the only thing people use their plastic bags for after they've lugged home the shopping is as bin liners - straight to landfill. Can the parliament please do something serious to help the environment that people can see and understand?
Marion, Glasgow

I do not see the point of taxing plastic carrier bags. If it came into being the public would soon return to the old shopping bag or paper bags. I doubt the sincerity of many of these proposals. They are, unfortunately, only thought of by the various authorities as cash raising ventures.

Plastic carrier bags are part of the problem but the main source of waste in my household is food packaging. Some items are double or even triple packed with un-recyclable plastic and plastic coated cardboard. I want to recycle this plastic but there are so many different types it is impossible to sort. It is time that the supermarkets were forced to reduce the packaging. The only thing they are concerned about is making the product more attractive to the consumer so that we buy more and produce even more waste!
Alan Judge, Chippenham

We have had a tax on plastic bags for several years now and there seems to be no problem with it. The tax is collected by the retailer and passed on to government. The environmental impact is very obviously positive as the number of plastic bags has dwindled. Paper bags have become more popular and most shops are providing these. These bags will degrade quickly whereas the plastic bags do not. It works, go for it !
Brian Durney, Dublin

I think a plastic bag tax would be excellent! It works brilliantly in Ireland and the benefits to the environment far outweigh the costs and effort to implement the tax. I really hope the tax does become a reality - if not on a Scottish level, then I want to see Gordon Brown make it a UK wide tax. Labour says they are dedicated to the environment - let's see some action to back up those words.
Susan Warren, Edinburgh

All that needs to be said about this is that it has worked in Ireland. MSPs need to pull their fingers out and get on with it. The special pleading of companies who think they may be adversely affected by the levy needs to be considered in the light of the advantages of the levy to society and the environment.
David Hansen

It is an essential and inevitable tax for our country if anything is to be done about the lax approach to plastic use and littering in Scotland. In Denmark, consumption of paper and plastic bags has declined by 66% following measures introduced in 1994, while the Irish report that the plastic bag tax has resulted in a 95% reduction in consumption of plastic bags. This is not only about preserving our declining reserves of oil, but about shifting cultural attitudes towards littering and recycling. This tax works in every other country it's been tried in, why not here?
Richard MacDonald, Glasgow

I was originally sceptical over the plastic bag tax but since its introduction it's fair to say we don't miss them at all. Yes, paper is more widely used but that has to be better environmentally as it's degradable. I don't understand why its such an issue in the UK. Like the smoking ban it's better for us, so why not do it?
Pete, Ballina, Ireland

I am not against a bag tax in principle although I believe there is a direct correlation between the quality of bags generally issued by supermarkets and the quantity people use for their shopping. Give us stronger bags and people will use less new ones and are more likely to use again. Another area that seems to have been overlooked is biodegradable bags - I remember Boots making use of these around 20 years ago but you don't see them around now.
Jon, Glasgow

Linen shopping bags are used as promotion items in Denmark or can be bought for the equivalent of 15p -- they are lightweight and washable and popular. We have a much reduced plastic bag problem as a result.
Gerry, Denmark

Lobsters last week, plastic bags this week. I dread to think what the issue will be next week for MSPs.
Malcolm, Dundee

I can't believe that the Scottish Parliament has bought the plastic bag lobby's claims. The claim that plastic bags on average are reused about once is fairly meaningless - it's their eventual fate that matters. Any waste ground around here is absolutely plastered in plastic bags. Most trees have there own share of them. They block drains and are a hazard for wildlife. It's worked well in Ireland - we need to follow their lead.
Tracey Lloyd, Aberdeen

Please charge the tax asap - unless all bags are made to be 100% biodegradable.
Barbara Setterfield, Huntly

Personally I think paying tax on plastic bags is an absolute disgrace, what on heaven earth is this world coming to.
Julieanne, Belfast

It's obvious. If you can have as many free bags as you want then there are going to be a lot thrown away. The charge is a good thing. It's obvious Labour were going to oppose it as their whole mentality is negative, but I hope the SNP and Lib Dems will support the bill.
Donald, Oban

See the arguments for the bag tax

Bags plan 'has limited benefits'
29 Aug 05 |  Scotland
MSP proposes plastic bag charge
20 Jun 05 |  Scotland
Scots count cost of plastic bags
28 Oct 04 |  Science/Nature
Call for levy on plastic bags
28 Oct 03 |  Scotland
Irish bag tax hailed success
20 Aug 02 |  Europe

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