Card Factory defends plastic bag tax avoidance

Greetings cards retailer Card Factory has fended off criticism of it's decision to sell plastic bags without handles as a way of avoiding the 5p carrier bag charge.

The Wakefield-based chain is now offering smaller, handleless bags to customers in England purchasing a small number of items. The bags are exempt from England’s recently introduced 5p plastic bag levy, which Defra has specified only applies to bags with handles.

This move to sidestep a tax that has been brought in for clear environmental reasons has sparked outcry from customers and the media alike, with campaign group Friends of the Earth claiming it is “missing the point”.

‘Clever wheeze’

A Friends of the Earth spokesperson said: “Plastic bags end up in the sea, stuck in trees, or uselessly cluttering up our cupboards. The whole point of the charge – which has been massively successful – is to make you think twice about whether you really need one, which people often don’t.

“Snipping off the handles is a clever wheeze to get round the charge, but it’s two fingers up at trying to protect animals and the environment.”

Card Factory continues to sell normal plastic carrier bags for 5p and the card seller says the decision to sell additional bags without handles was made in direct response to customer feedback.

Card Factory response

A Card Factory spokesperson told edie: “There have been reports in the media about our policy on charging for plastic bags. We’re happy to confirm that our current policy complies with the rules introduced by the Government in England last autumn. We do charge 5p for plastic carrier bags in England, and we also charge for all plastic bags in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“There are some plastic bags we provide to our customers in England that we do not currently charge for. These are not classified as carrier bags as they do not have handles. We introduced these in response to feedback from our customers, at the time the new charges were introduced, who felt such bags were important in protecting their purchase of single or a small number of greeting cards.

“At the time, we looked at our options and consulted Defra before we introduced these new bags. Defra confirmed in writing that we did not need to charge for the plastic bags we were introducing as they did not have handles.

“We will continue to listen to our customers’ views on this issue and monitor any changes in the rules. As before, we will take guidance from Defra before making any changes.”

Simple changes

The 5p plastic bag charge was introduced in England last October, following a successful rollout across the rest of the UK. Since the introduction of the charge, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all seen thin-gauge plastic bag use plummet by around 80%.

When brought to England, Resource Minister Rory Stewart said: “Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country.”

Since the English tax was introduced, Tesco has reported a 78% fall in use of single-use bags, while Asda has reported an overall reduction in single-use carriers across Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland of more than 90% since those countries brought in levies.

Luke Nicholls

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