DEFRA appear to have had a busy Christmas and have released a consultation on amending the 5p plastic bag charge. You can access the consultation and submit your views HERE
What are the changes?
The plan is to increase the fee to 10p and introduce requirements for all retailers to charge for bags (currently those with less than 250 employees are exempt). The current charging system has received a lot of praise, with a reduction of around 86% since its introduction.
Other changes include the removal of an exemption which allows airports to provide clear bags at security check-ins free of charge. The proposal is to include these bags in the 10p charge.
A further suggestion is the inclusion of data on the number of single-use bags placed on the UK market within the Producer Responsibility – Packaging Waste Regulations. This would mean that producers would be required to submit the quantity of single-use bags placed on the market as part of their annual packaging data submission. This would not necessarily be the retailer themselves; the responsibility would sit with the importer or manufacturer of the bags in the UK.
What are the benefits?
Overall, the government estimate significant benefits as a result of the changes, with a projected net societal benefit of £163.9 million over 10 years. There is also an implication that retailers will be able to pass savings on to their customers due to the additional revenue received through the system. Last year £51 million was donated to charitable causes through the scheme.
However, there is necessity for caution when reviewing the single-use bag charge. Whilst it has no doubt caused a surge in re-use and minimised unnecessary plastic usage to some extent, there is an assumption that a movement towards “Bag for Life” plastic and textile equivalents is of environmental benefit, but this may not be the case. Until the alternatives to single-use bags have been formally Life Cycle Assessed (a process which takes into account the full life cycle carbon footprint of a product, including its average usage), any direct environmental benefit remains a perception.
The changes are suggested for introduction in early 2020.
What does this mean for me?
Producers (organisations placing single-use plastic bags on the market):
If the requirement for inclusion of plastic bag figures in the annual producer responsibility submission does come into play, this would need to be considered when making your annual packaging data submission. With a suggested implementation of January 2020, now might be a good time to look at how you would capture this data. The wording in the consultation implies that the business whom first places the bag on the market would have to include it, so packaging importers or manufacturers may wish to respond to the consultation voicing any concerns.
As a consumer the main change will depend on whether you have a penchant for forgetting your bags when you go to the shops or not. Those who tend to not take their own bags will be faced with a larger charge. This will also include smaller retailers, so a trip to the local grocer may also result in a plastic bag charge. The consultation does imply that cost savings will be passed down though, so you may see your weekly shop drop in price!
For the larger retailers, this change mostly reflects changing the bag value from £0.05 to £0.10 in your product directory. However, for smaller retailers, you may need to set up a system for charging for plastic bags and use this as an opportunity to switch your individual packaging policy or encourage your customers to utilise a re-useable alternative.
You might want to ask Santa for a Ziplock bag for Christmas this year, so you have plenty of time in 2019 to make sure you are on the “Nice” list. Alternatively, it might be a good opportunity to start taking your own re-useable bag with you to get into the habit prior to 2020. Many people already do this as it saves time and resources. Otherwise, prepare to pay the 10p charge. I can think of a few discount airlines whom can’t wait to add plastic bags to their list of in-flight add-ons!
The consultation is live until 22 February 2019. If you would like a hand preparing your response, or want to talk through some of the changes, then please feel free to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org