It is now less than a year before the compulsory 5p charge for plastic bags will be introduced in England. Whilst most users and suppliers of packaging support the move, there is concern about where it will lead next.
PlasticsEurope has announced that it has concerns about an agreement reached between European Parliament negotiators and member states regarding the bags. Whilst there is general agreement on the mandatory charge, there are fears that an overall outlawing of lightweight plastic bags will set a precedent and further regulations concerning other kinds of packaging will follow. The industry says this could severely hinder the market within the EU and create trade barriers.
Karl Foerster, PlasticsEurope’s executive director, said that proposals to ban these bags contravenes the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive and potentially opens the door for member states to ban other packaging types. He added that there was a concern that different packaging regulations within different member states would create trade barriers and hinder both innovation and investment.
The mandatory charge on bags, regardless of what they are made from, is being supported by the plastics industry in Europe, however, as it is seen as an effective way of raising awareness amongst consumers and reducing a littering problem.
Mr Foerster said the charge was an effective tool to use in a bid to reduce lightweight plastic-bag consumption and ensure that consumers understand the value of resources that have gone into creating the bags.
The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive includes carrier bags as a form of packaging, but PlasticsEurope would like to see them treated differently to set them apart from packaged goods. This could be considered as part of a planned review of the directive.
In England, larger businesses will have to start charging customers 5p for each carrier bag from October 2015. The government says that this will lower the number of bags used, reduce littering and increase re-use.
In 2013, supermarkets alone handed out more than eight billion carrier bags designed for single use in the UK, which is the equivalent of 130 bags for every person and a total of 57,000 tonnes of bags.
There is a cost to the environment through their production, problems with disposal and a risk to wildlife when they are discarded as litter.
Customers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland already pay 5p for their bags. Small and medium-sized business in England, however, will be exempt from the charge in a bid to prevent an excessive administrative burden on them and to ensure economic growth in the country is not hindered.