Has the 5p bag plan been successful so far?

As we come to the end of the three-month “bedding in” for the carrier bag charge across Wales, it seems like a good time to review. This 5 pence charge to all single use plastic bags was introduced in order to moderate the 350 million carrier bags taken home in 2009 – a total of 273 per household. One of the main issues with the charge has come from casual chats with students and residents of Aberystwyth. Miss Thompson said “I understand where they [the Government] are coming from, and it is probably helping the environment, but it feels like it is the government’s way of taking more money from us.” This common misperception caused some vendors, in places such as Cardiff, to receive verbal abuse at the introduction. In reality, the charge is intended to alter our way of thinking about the effects that this volume has on the environment, with the money intended to go solely towards charities and environmental projects. Tesco, for example, have pledged their money to RSPB Cymru and Oxfam to help youth projects in Wales.

Though official figures have yet to come out, a good benchmark to use would be that of retail giant M&S, who introduced a similar charge in May 2009. By August of the same year, there had been an 80% reduction in single use bags and £500,000 was given to charity as a consequence of the other 20%. There are significant indicators to suggest that the government introduced charge has accomplished a similar achievement across Wales. A Tesco employee stated that there had been a dramatic decrease in the number of single use bags being taken and there was generally a positive attitude about the charge.

So what are the negative implications of this charge? Though the charge is not a tax, could the money be more wisely spent? Based on 2009 numbers the total of this charge over 350 million bags would be £17,500,000, money to subsidise Higher Education or fuel charges for example?

This controversial charge can ultimately be avoided: re-use old bags.