EDINBURGH, Scotland, June 29, 2013 (ENS) - Most Scottish retailers will have to charge a minimum of five pence for each plastic bag they hand to shoppers from October 2014 under a new move by government to reduce the number of single-use, throwaway bags littering Scotland.
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead announced the move Friday following a consultation held last year to gauge public opinion about how to cut down on the 750 million plastic bags used in Scotland each year.
Secretary Lochhead said, “Discarded carrier bags highlight our throwaway society. We use more carrier bags per head in Scotland than any other part of the UK and this is unsustainable."
“Carrier bags are a highly visible aspect of litter and we are taking decisive action to decrease their number. By reducing the amount being carelessly discarded we can cut litter and its impact on our environment and economy," said Lochhead. "A small charge should also encourage us all to stop and think about what we discard and what can be re-used."
The scheme is subject to the Scottish Parliament's approval of regulations that will be introduced in time for businesses to start charging for the bags by October 2014.
Lochhead says the charge is not a tax because retailers will be expected to donate the net proceeds to good causes.
“We have seen elsewhere that carrier bag charging has been effective in encouraging people to reuse bags, the secretary said. "This charge is not a tax but will see retailers donating the proceeds to charity - this could be up to £5 million per year after retailers have covered their costs."
“Thousands of Scottish people already use bags for life and some retailers already charge," said Lochhead. "It is now time, however, for a national effort.”
In the Irish Republic, retailers charge the equivalent of 19 pence, on an estimated total of 1.2 billion bags a year.
In Northern Ireland, the charge will rise from five pence to 10 pence in April 2014.
In Scotland, the charge will apply to single use bags of any material, not just plastic.
Zero Waste Scotland Director Iain Gulland said, "Zero Waste Scotland supports initiatives that tackle litter and help achieve a zero waste society, so we welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to implement a levy on single use bags."
“We can all reduce the impact of carrier bags by making sure that when we must take one, we re-use it over and over again as many times as possible and then recycle it at the end of its life," said Gulland.
All retailers will be required to charge for single-use bags, not just supermarkets.
Smaller businesses will be exempt from the requirement to report to the government the numbers of bags sold and how much they have given to charity to minimize administrative burdens upon them. But these smaller businesses will be expected to display this information on their premises in a poster for customers to see.
Some types of bags will be exempt, mainly for health and safety reasons and privacy such as bags for prescriptions, certain fresh foods - including fruit, unpackaged meat or fish - and unpackaged blades.
The details of which bags are to be exempted will be finalized in discussion with stakeholders to ensure the system is effective.
Encouraging the reuse of carrier bags will complement wider government action to tackle litter, which will be published later this summer. Moves to cut litter on land, in the sea and river systems will be set out as strategies for consultation.
But the Federation of Small Businesses says the Scottish Government should postpone plans to introduce the mandatory charge for plastic bags until businesses have time to adapt to the upcoming waste regulations.
From 2014, retailers and other businesses in Scotland must start to comply with new rules which mean the vast majority will have to look to install new ways to sort, store and dispose of rubbish and recyclable materials. Most businesses, including retailers, are unaware of these upcoming changes, says the Federation.
Said Andy Willox OBE, the FSB's Scottish policy convenor, "Independent retailers distribute a small proportion of the total number of single-use bags requested by customers on an annual basis. The proposed rules on bags should be postponed until these same businesses have had a chance to adapt to Scotland's biggest ever shake-up in the field of business waste."
"In the meantime," said Willox, "if the Scottish Government still regards plastic bag distribution as a key problem, they should start with the businesses which distribute the vast majority – namely the supermarkets and the large multiples."
"Successfully implementing planned new waste rules will be a huge challenge for government and businesses and will require big changes by small businesses," Willox said. "A mandatory bag charge, recognised as primarily symbolic by the Scottish Government, seems like a frivolous distraction.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Edinburgh shoppers with cloth carry bags (Photo by Edinburgh Greens) http://www.edinburghgreens.org.uk