Should London ban plastic bags?

The public are being invited to have their say on whether or not a tax on disposable bags, or even an outright ban, would be appropriate for London.

Plastic and paper bags make up a small but significant percentage of the waste produced by Londoners and the borough councils have teamed up to see if there is public appetite to tackle the problem.

Measures to tackle disposable bags are not a new idea – Ireland reported a huge drop in bag waste after introducing a levy on each plastic bag shoppers used – or plastax – while a number of countries in the developing world have brought in outright bans on their use.

The London Councils consultation looks at the possibilities for both plastic and paper bags, with options ranging from keeping the status quo to an outright ban on throw away bags.

In the UK, over 13 billion bags are issued every year to shoppers – roughly 220 per person every year.

For London, a conservative figure based on population size would indicate Londoners use at least 1.6 billion bags per year – although the real figure is probably much higher once visitor numbers are taken into account.

While some of these bags will be re-used once or twice, official figures reveal that only one in 200 of these are recycled, meaning that billions of shopping bags are sent to landfill every year.

The online consultation is open until October 25.

Its findings will inform the boroughs’ proposals for the 10th London Local Authorities Bill (LLAB), which will be considered by Parliament later this year.

“This is an opportunity for London and for Londoners to lead the country in a bold initiative,” said Cllr Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils.

“We are asking for their views on our proposals to do something about the billions of shopping bags that end up sent to landfill each year, and their views will directly shape one of the key provisions planned for the 10th LLAB.

“Inevitably, the big solutions to environmental issues will come from our cities, and London, as one of the world’s truly global cities, is keen to step up to the mark and take the lead.

“I would urge everyone to seize this opportunity to help shape London’s environmental future.”

Cllr Sean Brennan, London Councils executive member for sustainability, added: “London’s local authorities are at the sharp end of waste disposal, and as such, we are keen to take a lead on this issue.

“People need to realise that the ‘free’ shopping bag they pick up in the supermarket is not really free at all – certainly not in its cost to the environment.

“Introducing a levy on plastic bags should help consumers think twice before picking them up in future. But if Londoners feel strongly enough to propose an outright ban on free throw away shopping bags, then that is what we will lobby for.”

If London does choose to take action on plastic bags, it will become the second British town to do so, following in the footsteps of the Devon’s Modbury, which introduced a bag ban in May.

Sam Bond

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