The Scottish Executive is currently looking at adopting a Bill put forward by Mike Pringle MSP to follow Ireland’s example and encourage consumers to use less plastic bags by charging a tax on them at supermarkets and other retailers.

The Scottish Executive has published the results of a study into the possible impacts, both financial and environmental, that the levy might have.

And while there would be a clear reduction in the amount of polyethene waste there are concerns that this gain would be counteracted by a massive increase in the amount of paper waste as people swapped their plastic carriers for paper bags.

The report also estimates 300 to 700 jobs could be lost in Scotland alone, with knock on effects impacting on up to 2,500 elsewhere in the UK employed in the manufacture, import or distribution of plastic bags.

A lesser effect could be felt by a further 12,000 working in the country’s wider plastic industry.

The study also pointed out that plastic bags currently make up less than 1% of Scotland’s waste, so even significant reductions would have a limited impact in real terms.

Defenders of the proposal point to Ireland where a similar levy has already been introduced and argue that tax has raised awareness of waste issues and is changing habits.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Head of Research, Dr Dan Barlow, said: “We welcome the fact that this study confirms that introducing a plastic bag levy would result in many positive environmental benefits including reducing energy use and littering.

“In Ireland the plastic bag tax has been a great success and Scotland’s environment stands to benefit from a similar scheme.

“However, we believe the study’s suggestion that a levy would lead to an increase in paper waste is misleading.

“The study has clearly under-estimated the number of consumers that would either re-use carrier bags or switch to long-lasting canvas or cotton alternatives.

“Furthermore, the study fails to take account of the fact that unlike plastic, paper is one of the easiest wastes to recycle and less likely to end up dumped in landfills.

“To avoid paying the levy, and to help protect the environment, simply requires that you take your own bag each time you shop. It is not that difficult.

“The Executive should either bring forward their own legislation to introduce a levy or support Mike Pringle’s Bill to levy a charge for plastic carrier bags.”

By Sam Bond

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