Plastic bag charge: Could fee be applied to other packaging?

A 5p charge for plastic bags in large stores was introduced in Scotland in 2014 and introduced a year ago in England.  Research now suggests it’s had positive environmental effects with usage radically reduced.

The charge aims to encourage shoppers to think about reusing bags in order to prevent litter and combat our throwaway culture. Shoppers are encouraged to make a habit of using a bag for life wherever practicable.

Last year it was reported in Scotland that the number of plastic bags handed out in stores was slashed by 80% – the equivalent of 650 million carriers – in the first year of Scotland’s 5p charge. The charge for single-use carriers has also raised about £6.7m for good causes in 12 months.

Since the introduction in England some 90% of shoppers now use their own carrier bags, research for Cardiff University has suggested – up from 70% before the levy was introduced.

So could similar charges be applied to other items to help the environment? Elena Sautkina, an expert in environmental psychology, believes that there is a “window of opportunity” to bring in further potential charges against plastic. She says bringing in a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles could be one of those ways. Her research has shown that since the plastic bag charge was introduced public opinion in England has grown towards introducing a similar scheme for plastic bottles. She surveyed a representative group of people spanning England, Wales and Scotland one month before the 5p bag charge was introduced, a month afterwards, and six months afterwards.

Her results saw what she termed as “strong support” for a plastic bottle deposit scheme grow over time in all three countries – from 33% to 39% in England, 44% to 50% in Wales and from 25% to 34% in Scotland.

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