England is setting up the groundwork for an expansive new levy on plastic bags that will affect supermarkets and larger stores nationwide. The 5p charge for plastic bags in England, which will take effect after the 2015 election, will hopefully discourage its citizens from using the bags when shopping. The proceeds of the tax will be donated to environmental charities in a further attempt to decrease England’s environmental footprint.
The idea of a bag tax is not new to England. A similar charge is currently present in Wales and Northern Ireland. According to data from major supermarkets and from Liberal Democrat sources, Northern Ireland’s plastic bag consumption dropped 80% and Wale’s use of plastic bags dropped 75% since the tax took effect. Similar reduction rates have also been seen in bag-taxing districts, such as Toronto and Los Angeles.
Many environmental advocates praised the Liberal Democrats’s plans for a plastic bag tax. Andy Walker, from Keep Britain Tidy, said that the campaign group’s supporters were pleased with the government’s eco-conscious initiative. “It will influence behavior change – people will start to take reusable bags with them to the supermarket and that will actually make a big difference to the environment.”
Of course, there are still many groups who are against the tax. Matthew Sinclair, a speaker for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, stated that the tax was altogether unnecessary. “There are already a number of different schemes to encourage people to think about reusable bags,” he said in a public statement. “There are other schemes which involve using the carrot rather than the stick of a new tax.”
Despite these oppositions, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg assures that the tax is a necessary step forward. “They are not just bad for the environment, they are a terrible eyesore on our beautiful countryside,” he said on a visit to Cathkin Marsh nature reserve. “They cause a lot of suffering for animals, particularly marine wildlife.”
The tax could not have come at a better time for the UK. Despite increasing environmental awareness, plastic bag use has steadily increased for the past two years. In 2012 alone, the UK used over 800 billion plastic bags. The vast majority of these bags are not biodegradable, and will take upwards of 1,000 years to degrade in Britain’s landfill sites. The bags that are not properly thrown away will litter the countryside, and may very well cause a danger to the animals that accidentally consume, or become tangled in, the plastic.