Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Plastic bag charges by May 2011


End in sight for free carrier bags in Wales as minister announces charges before May 2011

Compulsory charges for plastic carrier bags will be introduced in Wales before May 2011, it has been announced.

The charge for single-use bags has not yet been decided, but it is expected to be between 5p and 15p.

Wales will become the first nation in the UK to introduce charging for one-trip carrier bags to curb their use.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson said she would seek voluntary agreements with large retailers to direct the proceeds to environmental causes.

The charge will be introduced before the next assembly election.

An estimated 480m carrier bags are used in Wales each year and it takes 500 to 1,000 years for them to degrade.

The Welsh Assembly Government is using powers provided to it under the Climate Change Act to introduce the compulsory charge.

However, it does not currently have powers to say where the money should go.

'Iconic symbol'

Ms Davidson told AMs that carrier bags "represent a waste of resources and they are an iconic symbol of the throwaway society we now seem to live in".

"I am now working towards achieving implementation of a mandatory charge on single-use carrier bags before our next election in 2011," she said.

Draft regulations will be issued next spring. During an consultation earlier this year, concerns were raised about how funds from the charges would be used and how it would affect sections of society.

Conservative environment spokeswoman Angela Burns said such measures were "important in changing consumer behaviour, reducing litter and improving the environment".

We are concerned about the possible impact a charge will have on lower income groups
Vivienne Sugar, Consumer Focus Wales

She urged the cost to be 5p, and said when Ireland set that level there was an 80% cut in the use of bags.

Tories also want some of the money raised to go on projects to promote walking and cycling, "improving the nation's health and the environment at the same time".

Before Ms Davidson made her announcement, Vivienne Sugar, chair of Consumer Focus Wales, said: "We are concerned about the possible impact a charge will have on lower income groups.

"We also feel that in order for consumers to be confident this charge is used effectively for the benefit of the environment, the use of an independent body to administer the money is key.

"We recognise that Welsh ministers do not currently have the power to say where any money raised from a charge should go, and strongly urge that current plans to change the law in this regard are prioritised."

Pigeon with head in plastic bag
An estimated 480m carrier bags are used in Wales each year

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said customers should be encouraged to change, and not "clobbered" with new "taxes".

But Ms Davidson said the evidence showed that "introducing a charge works".

"Ikea and Marks & Spencer already charge for bags and they have seen reductions of between 80% and 90%," she said.

The minister said retailers would collect and distribute money raised under a voluntary agreement, after their administrative costs had been covered.

"Net receipts will then be passed directly to environmental projects from retailers and would not therefore be passed either to the assembly government or a third party body," Ms Davidson added.

She said ministers would seek reserve powers to "back up" the voluntary arrangements, should they decide the agreement had not delivered "sufficient results".

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