With less than 8 months until England introduces its own 5p levy on single-use plastic bags, we take a look at how the other home nations are getting on.
Recycling plastic bags is a notoriously difficult and uneconomical process, which is why Scotland was delighted to welcome their own single-use plastic bag levy back in October 2014. Major supermarkets and retailers have reported reductions of 80-95% in their main stores.
The bag levy does not mean that bags are banned, it just means that customers will be charged 5p per bag, and are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags. In Scotland, the money collected in Tesco stores is donated to ‘Keep Scotland Beautiful’. This is great news for Scotland’s countryside, with the reduction in litter and the increase in funding allowing for a greater level of care and protection of nature.
Asda raised £145,000 in the first few months of Scotland’s plastic bag levy, a huge amount which is going to be carefully gifted to community projects and social enterprises who need some investment. £145,000 in 5p carrier bags equates to 2.9 million bags distributed in Scotland’s Asda stores.
October 2011, Wales introduces a plastic bag levy, also of 5p. By July 2012, there is a dramatic decrease of 96% in the usage of plastic bags. Staggering.
It was Wales who first pioneered the levy in the UK, with the success of the scheme leading to Scotland and Northern Ireland following in its footsteps. It is reported that at least 85% of shoppers in Wales remember to take their own bag! Reduce and reusing plastic bags is ultimately better for the environment than recycling plastic bags.
It’s quite important to note that during the period since Wales introduced the levy, plastic bag use has increased in England. It’s because of England’s out of control relationship with plastic bags, often taking a bag for just a single item, that something needs to be done. We never worked out why it has taken so long, and will not be active until October 1st later this year. That’s four year after Wales began, by which time, the Welsh may have almost cut out plastic bags altogether!
Welsh support for the scheme came as a mixture of pleasure that the funds raised would be donated to charities and an idea that would help protect the natural beauty of the small nation. For every positive, there is a negative, and that comes in the form of a small minority who live near the border. It is believed that many who live near the border will drive into England to do their shopping as not to be charged for bags, and so they can stock up on free ones!
Back in April 2013, Northern Ireland followed Wales and introduced a single-use plastic bag levy, with great success. In the first 12 months of the scheme launching, there was a 71.8% reduction in the use of plastic bags. There are now under 100 million plastic bags dispensed annually in Northern Ireland. If the whole of Great Britain used around 8 billion plastic bags in that time frame, you can see how impressive that truly is!
Similar to Wales, the small nation decided to use the money raised by the levy to help local environmental projects. Over 250 projects benefited from the £2.3 million dedicated to its cause. Other beneficiaries include the Natural Heritage Grant, Sustainability Innovation Fund and Local Clean-Up Support.
In the second year of the levy, a 5p increase was added to all new plastic bags, including re-usable ones, to encourage reducing, reusing and recycling plastic bags to protect the environment.
Not yet. October 1st 2015.
With Recycling plastic bags not an option, how do you think the English general public will react to the change?