Wales plans bag tax

The Welsh government plans to use legislation to ban free plastic bags alongside voluntary commitments made by retailers.

The assembly has announced it will begin work on legislation to make free single-use carrier bags a thing of the past, mirroring Ireland’s successful bag tax.

Environment Minister Jane Davidson has said civil servants are now investigating how such a system might be made to work within the context of the Climate Change Act.

While Scotland has long considered action on legislation to cut the use of throw-away bags, this move makes Wales the first UK administration to start work in this area.

Ms Davidson made the announcement while visiting a Newport company, SCA Packaging, which makes recyclable boxes to replace bags in supermarkets.

She also said she had been in talks with Irish Environment Minister John Gormley about how the system there had cut the use of plastic bags by an estimated 90%.

“I have always stated that I do not support the use of one-trip plastic bags,” she said.

“They are not usually bio-degradable and represent a waste of resources. Customers have come to expect free plastic bags at checkouts, but the tide appears to be turning as shoppers look for more environmentally-friendly options.

“I have asked my department to develop legislation to end the use of single use carrier bags. Currently there is a voluntary agreement where certain retailers have agreed to reduce the number of single use carrier bags by 50% by May this year – this is a good target.

“But this does not cover all retailers and still leaves 50% using one trip plastic bags. I recognise we need to give the retail sector a chance to demonstrate what they can do voluntarily, but I am willing to use all the powers at our disposal.

“An estimated 490 million plastic bags are used in Wales each year. It takes between 450 and 1,000 years for these bags to degrade.”

While the Climate Change Act includes mechanisms which would allow the Welsh Assembly Government to force retailers to charge for plastic bags, it would not be able to dictate how this money would be spent.

Sam Bond

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