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Published - 08/04/2013

5p charge in Northern Ireland leaves England as only home nation not taking action on carrier bags

Six billion bags and rising - but still no action in England says Break the Bag Habit coalition

The Break the Bag Habit (BTBH) Coalition, of which MCS is a member, says it  welcomes the news that from today (Monday 8th April)  Northern Ireland is taking action to prevent bag litter by bringing in a tax of 5p for single use carrier bags.

The BTBH coalition wants to see charges on single use bags throughout the UK, and says that the introduction of a tax in Northern Ireland highlights that England, out of all the home nations, has done nothing to take action on the amount of single use carrier bags that are given away and end up littering our seas and countryside.     

The Northern Ireland levy, the proceeds of which will go to the country's Department of Environment, means the province now joins Wales, where a charge was introduced in October 2011 and Scotland, where plans are underway for a similar scheme to that in Wales.

The Welsh scheme has proved immensely popular, with over 70% of consumers supporting it. In July 2012, John Griffiths, the then Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development in the Welsh Government, said in a written statement that retailers had estimated a fall in single-use bags issued of between 70-96 per cent.

In Scotland, following a public consultation, it's expected a similar charge will be introduced after the Scottish Government found there were no reasonable alternatives to the scheme.   Campaigners say that in England, where not even a consultation is on the horizon, David Cameron is failing in his pledge to take action on this issue - something he first promised in 2010.

Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Litter Policy Officer and spokesperson for Break the Bag Habit said "It is truly unbelievable that England is being left behind in this matter. Despite successful and popular actions from all the Devolved Administrations, we are still getting feeble excuses from Defra as to why such a scheme would not work in England.  Defra appear to be saying that the people couldn't afford a charge or retailers wouldn't cope - but we know from the Welsh experience this just isn't true."   

Retailers handed out over six billion bags in England in 2011 - up 7.5% on 2010, most of these are only used for a few minutes before being thrown away. Some stores, like Marks and Spencer, have voluntarily implemented a scheme which charges customers for single use carrier bags in their food halls. M&S say they have seen a drop of almost 80% in bags given out.

Voluntary agreements have proven to be only partly successful. The British Retail Consortium, the trade association representing a wide range of retailers, say on their website: "If other governments see reducing the use of carrier bags as a priority, they will have to take a lead and go beyond voluntary measures. Any legislation should be as similar as possible to what's in place in Wales and we are already working with other governments as they develop their plans."   

Break the Bag Habit will now lobby ministers in Westminster to start the ball rolling by committing to a consultation in England later this year. The group is calling for a charge to be implemented by the end of 2014.

"There is overwhelming support among the public in England for a charge. People in Wales now remember to take reusable bags as the charge has helped charge behavior.  Shops are still open and consumers still spending. Now, with Northern Ireland joining it's neighbours in southern Ireland, where a tax has been successfully in place since 2002, Westminster must act on what can only be described as a common sense popular vote winner," says Dr Kinsey.      

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