Is introducing a plastic bag charge policy a good idea?

The conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has proposed a new policy where by plastic bag usage will be charged to reduce the amount of plastic bags that are wasted. We understand that not wasting packaging supplies is important, and we are passionate about recycling, so we decided to take a closer look at the changes that were put forward.

Taken from the press release on Zac Goldsmith’s own site, this is what he said at the House of Commons on the 17th of October:

“On 29 September last year, the Prime Minister gave an ultimatum to the supermarkets. He warned that unless stores deliver 'significant falls' over the next 12 months, they could either be banned outright from giving out single-use bags or be legally required to charge customers for them. The latest official figures show another increase – a 5.4 per cent rise during 2011 compared to the previous year. The Prime Minister is now under pressure to act if he is to honour his own pledge and follow through on his ultimatum.”

Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park, referred to the policy that Wales introduced in October where consumers must pay 5p per plastic bag used, saying that is proved to be very popular and that plastic bag usage had fallen considerably.

However, not all think this is a good idea. Mark Pawsey, conservative MP for Rugby, doesn’t necessarily think the measure will actually cut plastic bag use, saying:

“Will the Minister in his evaluation take account of the additional bag purchases that will take place in Wales as a consequence of people not having that stock of unused carrier bags under the sink? In resource terms, the fact that people will be buying other products should be taken into account.”

Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome David Heath took a more neutral stance, saying the benefits of the system employed by Wales (as well as more recently by Scotland) should be weighed against the added cost to the average household budget:

“It should be. My hon. Friend is giving an example of exactly why we need to look at the results in the round rather than at a simple indicator. Let us do that and let us be convinced, if convinced we are, that what has happened in Wales is the right way to approach the issue. We will also consider the Scottish consultation on change, which closed on 28 September, and discuss the matter with our colleagues in Scotland. We will balance the benefits of any change with the real, but avoidable, effect on household budgets to ensure that we get the right option.”

So is this a good change? It depends on whether there are alternatives to imposing a cost that could result in a similar reduction in usage. By placing a cost on the bags, this could have the potential to hurt the plastics industry, a point also raised by Mark Pawsey who commented that the packaging industry turns over £11 billion and is responsible for 3% of the manufacturing industry. However, with more money in the industry, and more forward thinking companies, the development of more eco-friendly plastics will be of great benefit to everyone.

We await to see what the final decision will be!