Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said that exemptions to an upcoming charge on plastic bags are overly complicated and should be scrapped to save billions of bags being given out each year.
The government has legislated for a 5p charge on single use plastic bags to come into force in England in October 2015. As it stands, the law will exempt businesses with less than 250 employees as well as paper and biodegradable bags.
The Lib Dems on Friday proposed changes to the upcoming plastic bag charge that they claim will remove an extra 3.5bn plastic bags and 328m papers bags from circulation each year, and save small businesses £300m annually. Plastic bag use has risen for four years running, with 8.3bn given out in 2013.
Clegg said: “The facts are simple; single use bags blight our towns and countryside, they trap and suffocate wildlife, and plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade.
“The countdown to charging has begun, and by the time it arrives this autumn, reusable bags should increasingly be commonplace. As we get used to it, the hundreds of millions raised from the charge will go to charities.
“But we need to do much more. We need to go further and faster.”
The policy follows a recommendation from the environmental audit committee of MPs in June that all exemptions should be dropped.
An exemption-free charge would bring England into line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Wales the first year of the 5p charge saw the use of plastic bags drop by 96%. An Environment Agency report found that on some measures, particularly carbon emissions, paper bags were worse for the environment than plastic.
The business community was supportive of the move.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “The BRC has always maintained that the charge should apply to all retailers and all bags. It makes sense to improve on the current proposal now rather than waiting until the next parliament. The proposal as it stands is confusing and will not send a clear message to shoppers.”
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “The FSB supports the introduction of charges for plastic bags. Many small retailers believe this measure could be good for business, good for the environment and good for their customers and community. However, we agree with the widely held industry view that imposing complex reporting requirements on smaller businesses is overly-burdensome and unnecessary.”
But the chairman of the Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association Michael Stephen criticised the removal of the exemption on biodegradable plastic bags.
“There will still be an awful lot of bags in circulation, even with the 5p charge. Some of them will get into the environment,” said Stephen. He said the exemption would ensure that more of these bags were biodegradable.
Clegg’s announcement comes after a week in which the Lib Dems attempted to position themselves ahead of the Conservatives and Labour on the green agenda. Across five days they announced an environmental policy agenda which included tougher penalties for flytipping and a prescription-for-boilers scheme.
Clegg said he was proud of the Lib Dem’s part in David Cameron’s “greenest government ever”.
“At the beginning of this coalition government we made ambitious promises. Four years on I’m proud to say that we’ve made real changes. From planting new trees, to boosting green travel options in their cities, the powerful steps we’ve taken will conserve our environment now and for years to come.”
Find the entire Article on : http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/lib-dems-pledge-to-drop-plastic-bag-charge-exemptions