If adopted the bill would see a voluntary levy, payable by the public, put on plastic bags given away by supermarkets and other retailers.

Around 1 billion bags are handed out to Scottish shoppers every year and supporters of the bill say it could lead to reductions in waste, pointing to Ireland where a similar scheme has reduced the number of bags used by 90% since its introduction (see related story).

Taxes, or even outright bans, have been introduced on plastic bags all over the world, including in many developing countries.

As well as the waste and resources issue, plastic bags have been shown to block drains and sewers, pollute the soil as they break down and strangle and suffocate land animals.

Marine predators are known to mistake the bags for jellyfish, choking as they try to swallow them.

Mr Pringle has been pushing for the environmental levy for a number of years and describes plastic bags as a ‘menace’.

“Every year Scotland uses approximately one billion plastic bags,” he said.

“This is 200 bags for every man, woman and child in Scotland.

“Many of these plastic bags are not reused and eventually find their way into landfill sites or end up as litter on our streets.

“They contribute significantly to our throwaway culture of waste and I believe their use needs to be curbed.

“This bill will be good for the environment, and good for business.

“Hopefully it will also encourage people to think more about the products and services that they are using and raise an awareness of reuse and recycling in general.”

The bill would see shoppers given the option of paying for plastic bags, with the proceeds ring-fenced for environmental projects, or using their own.

Friends of the Earth Scotland has welcomed the launch of the bill, saying it hoped Scotland would mirror Ireland’s success.

“Scotland is struggling to deal with rising waste volumes and this Bill
could help change our wasteful attitude to resource use,” said Dr Dan Barlow, FoE Scotland’s head of research.

“The plastic bag levy in Ireland has been a great environmental success and gained widespread public acceptance.

“Scotland’s environment stands to benefit from a similar proposal.”

“Single use carrier bags are symbolic of our wasteful attitude to resources.

If the rest of the world consumed resources like the people of Scotland do, we would need two more planets to sustain us.”
Opponents of the scheme, led by a number of bag manufacturers under the aegis of the Plastic Bag Consortium, say the bill is little more than gesture politics, however, based on shaky environmental foundations.

The consortium argues that plastic bags make up less than 1% of Scottish landfill waste and use a tiny amount of oil in their manufacture compared to the amount we use in our cars.

It says that Ireland has seen a sharp rise in the number of shopping baskets stolen as people look for alternatives to the bags while the volume of waste has risen dramatically as bulky paper bags replace thin plastic carriers.

By Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie