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NGOs join forces to break England’s bag habit

27 July 2012

Four leading environmental organisations have joined forces to call for a levy on single-use bags in England, following the success of such levies in Wales and Ireland

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) are calling on the Government to reduce litter and waste by requiring retailers to introduce a small levy on all single-use bags. Together they have launched the ‘Break the Bag Habit’ campaign.

Bag levy fact sheet:

Over the past two years, the number of carrier bags used in England has increased despite repeated Government calls for retailers to reduce the numbers they give out.

Last year businesses in the UK issued plastic bags at a rate of 254 a second. A total of eight billion ‘thin-gauge’ plastic bags were issued during 2011 - a 5.4 per cent increase on the 7.6 billion bags issued in 2010 [1].

All of this net growth in the use of such plastic bags came from England, the only home nation not to have a single-use bag levy in place or to be actively seeking to implement one [2].

The increase in carrier bag use mirrored a rise in plastic bags littering our streets and beaches [3]. Last year, during the Marine Conservation Society’s national ‘Beachwatch’ beach cleaning event, volunteers collected over 5,000 bags in just one weekend.

After the first year of such a scheme in Wales, charging 5p per bag, the number of single-use bags issued has fallen by between 70 and 96 per cent, as estimated by retailers. In turn, public support for the Welsh bag levy has grown to 70 per cent [4]. When Ireland introduced a plastic bag levy in 2002, plastic bag use fell by 90 per cent [5]. Before the Irish levy plastic bags made up five per cent of visible litter, afterwards it dropped to 0.32 per cent [6].

In 2011 David Cameron said about this issue: “Progress overall went backwards last year, and that is unacceptable. Retailers need to do better. I want to see significant falls again. I know that retailers want to do better too but if they don’t I will be asking them to explain why not [7].”

Samantha Harding, CPRE Stop the Drop Campaign Manager, says: “Bag levies have been proven to work in Ireland and Wales. A levy is coming soon to Northern Ireland and Scotland is already consulting on introducing one. Why must the English countryside be the last to benefit from good environmental policies?”

Phil Barton, Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive, says: “The sight of a carrier bag blowing down the high street like tumbleweed is one with which we are all familiar. It is time to tackle this problem once and for all and we urge the government to follow Wales’ example and introduce a levy in England.”

Dr Sue Kinsey, Litter Policy Officer for MCS, says: “Single use bags and plastic bags in particular are a menace to the amazing marine wildlife found in English waters. Animals get entangled in them and mistake them for food. This can lead to infections, strangulation, starvation and even death. A levy is a simple, effective way to stop such a pervasive and ubiquitous form of pollution.”

Andy Cummins, SAS Campaign Director says: “Throughout the year, around the country, thousands of SAS supporters are stepping over plastic bags on the way to the surf. Consumers, retailers and even the Prime Minister support the bag levy. A levy will reduce litter and protect the environment, so David Cameron, it’s time England carried the bag levy too.”

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