Email to Rory: Ask Defra to have a plastic bag charge

Lord Henley replied on 1/9/11 - see attachment below:


Dear Rory

Thank you for your email of 18 August on behalf of your constituent Mr Chris Cant of Lake View Bampton Penrith about plastic bag charges.

The Government is working with leading retailers and the British Retail Consortium to help reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags.  Over the last four years we have seen a significant reduction, around 40%, in the issuing of single-use bags.  However, the latest figures show a reversal of this trend - a rise of 6% on the last reporting period.  This is unacceptable.

We expect retailers to take responsibility and cut down the number of single-use carrier bags they hand out, but the ability to take action also lies with consumers who can decline to accept them in favour of reusable alternatives.  If the results do not improve we consider additional measures, including legislation.

Defra will contribute to the European Commission's current consultation on a number of possible options for the reduction in the use of plastic bags, the results of which will also inform our decision.

The key message is to reuse bags as often as possible.  Paper is often suggested as a better alternative, but it does not lend itself readily to reuse unless it is combined with other materials, which then makes recycling very difficult.  All bags have an environmental impact, and while paper bags are derived from a renewable resource, they are heavier than plastic bags and can use more energy to produce and transport.  Studies have shown that reusing carrier bags is more beneficial than simply switching the material they are made of.

Carrier bags account for only a very small proportion of the waste we produce, but it can be particularly visible when discarded irresponsibly and are a potent symbol of anti-social littering.  They can also cause great harm to marine life if they get into the sea.  Reducing the number of bags we use would be a step towards more responsible living that would also encourage us to think about the resources we use.

My original email is as follows:

Dear Mr Stewart

I am part of the Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT) team that assembled the petition calling for a compulsory charge on plastic bags last year; you handed in the petition of almost 500 signatures to the House of Commons for us. In our previous surveys, 80% of shoppers supported a total ban or charge on bags, and 70% of retailers were prepared to take part in a campaign to limit or replace disposable plastic bags though 37% of traders felt the options needed further research.

The Defra response to our petition said that voluntary agreements with industry had achieved an almost 50% reduction in bag usage. Unfortunately this good progress has faltered as the latest figures show a 5% rise in bag use.

The Defra response to our petition said, "The Government are currently undertaking a review of all waste policy and the issue of single-use carrier bags will be included in this.". The Waste Review actually said this: "In the light of the 2011-12 figures on the use of single-use carrier bags in England, and the results of the proposed policy in Wales, the Government will decide whether and what further action might be needed."

I think prompter action than this is needed. I agree with Defra minister Lord Henley who said that the rise in supermarket carrier bags handed out "isn't good enough".

Defra already seems to be thinking of legislating.

Can you write to Lord Henley to ask him to take action now to introduce a charge as soon as possible. There are bigger environmental challenges in the form of climate change and indeed the possibility of real problems as the oil runs out and the financial system may break down again. However introducing a charge on plastic bags is surely a sensible step to show that real change in behaviour is needed by both ordinary people and the business community.

Chris Cant

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