Scots waver on plastic bag tax

Plans to follow in Irish footsteps and tax plastic carrier bags handed out to shoppers have been deferred by the Scottish executive.

The proposal had been to introduce a levy forcing shops to charge customers 10p per bag in an effort to reduce plastic waste (see related story).

The legislation, tabled as a private members bill by Edinburgh Lib Dem MSP Mike Pringle, was designed to send a message to consumers and retailers alike, but was put on hold this week following calls for more detailed information on the proposal and its likely impact.

Alasdair Morrison, Labour MSP for the Western Isles and a member of the executive’s environment committee, was quoted in the Observer on Sunday as saying the bill would be ‘legislative litter’ that ‘may have been dressed up as an environmentally friendly move, but really it would have been a tax on old ladies going to the shops.’

Those opposed to the bill argue that the levy has not made a significant impact to waste levels in Ireland and that it would be political tokenism as plastic bags make up a tiny percentage of the total waste produced by Scotland.

Trade groups have also lobbied against the bill, saying a tax would hard the Scottish plastic bag industry and potentially lead to job losses (see related story).

But Mr Pringle told edie that contrary to reports in the press at the weekend the bill was far from dead in the water and the arguments against it had been greatly exaggerated.

“Recycling rates in Ireland have gone through the roof since they introduced the plastax there,” he said.

“Government figures there show they were on 39.4% last June, they will be well over 40% by now, and they were on just 14% before the tax.

“Government officials I’ve spoken to said this was the catalyst for change and I think we could replicate the results here.”

Mr Pringle said he had been painted as an anti-plastic campaigner by some of those opposed to the bill, but claimed this was not the case.

“In Ireland there were some job losses but most of these were fairly quickly replaced by other jobs as companies diversified.

“I was accused of attacking the industry and of being against plastic but nothing could be further from the truth.

“Many plastic products are extremely good for the environment because they can be used over and over again.

“Plastic pallets, for example, last almost indefinitely whereas wooden ones break pretty quickly and use trees.”

Mr Pringle said the bill was still on track to be passed next August, once the executive had investigated it in more detail.

“Complex issues need to be addressed by the executive,” he told edie

“But I’m sure that once they’ve got all the answers they’ll be convinced that this is the right way forward.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland have also urged MSPs to think carefully about the future of the plastax, warning that a voluntary approach
will be insufficient to tackle Scotland’s waste problem.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Head of Policy & Research, Stuart Hay, said: “Plastic bags are a symptom of our throw away society wasting valuable,
non-renewable resources.

This bill remains the only serious attempt to tackle this problem and has triggered a much needed debate on Scotland’s problems with waste.

Despite the efforts of some responsible retailers, the voluntary approach has failed, so it is vital that the Executive builds on this proposals in its waste strategy.

“We are pleased that the parliamentary committee accepts that a levy on bags would deliver environmental benefits. Whilst there are some practical issues to overcome, we hope that the Scottish Ministers will not cave into the
vested interests of some supermarkets and those in the plastic bag

By Sam Bond

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