Wales politics

Plastic bags: Welsh government urges charges for rest of UK

Woman with shopping bags
Image caption Shoppers in Wales have had to pay 5p for single use carrier bags for the past year

The rest of the UK is being urged by the Welsh government to follow its lead and impose a compulsory charge for single use carrier bags.

One year after the 5p charge came in, Welsh Environment Minister John Griffiths says it has been a success.

Scottish ministers have consulted on a scheme, Northern Ireland plans a charge in 2013, and the UK government says it wants to work with English shops.

But the British Retail Consortium says there are bigger waste issues.

Wales became the first nation in the UK to charge for single use carrier bags when it was introduced on 1 October, 2011, with the aim of helping the environment.

The proceeds go to good causes, but businesses with fewer than 10 staff are not obliged to keep records of how the money is used. Retailers face a fine of up to £5,000 if they do not comply.

RSPB and Keep Wales Tidy have received a combined £800,000 since the charge was introduced, the Welsh government said.

Mr Griffiths said: "I have been really impressed by the ease with which Welsh retailers and shoppers have adjusted to the charge.

"Their efforts have been key to its success and I can see no reason why the charge wouldn't work just as well in other parts of the UK."

The cost is not linked to inflation and the Welsh government has no plans to increase it.

'Widely supported'

Research commissioned by the Welsh government says the charge is "widely supported" with people changing their habits as a result.

Published in July, the study by Cardiff University found 82% of shoppers brought their own bags compared to 61% before the charge was introduced.

A Scottish government consultation on whether to introduce a 5p charge closed last week.

The Northern Ireland Executive will bring forward legislation later this year to introduce a 5p charge for single-use carrier bags in April 2013.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "We want to work with retailers to help them lift their game to cut the number of bags they hand out.

"We are monitoring the results of the charging scheme in Wales and the outcome of the Scottish consultation on a charge."

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says the UK's leading high street and grocery retailers voluntarily cut the number of carrier bags they hand out by half between 2006 and 2009.

BRC food policy director Andrew Opie said further reductions would require legislation.

"It's a political issue. Where are your priorities in terms of the environment?" he said.

"Actually there are much more important things in waste to concentrate on than bags.

"To spend so much attention on it and not address bigger issues in waste does seem to us to be missing the point."

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