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Conservative MPs clash over plastic bag charge plans

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Conservative MPs clash over plastic bag charge plans

Conservative MPs clash over plastic bag charge plans
October 24
10:23 2012

Two Conservative MPs have clashed over plastic bag charging proposals

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith wants ministers to bring forward legislation to curb what he described as the most “idiotic” form of non-recyclable waste.

He is urging the Government to follow the example of Wales and Ireland and charge for the use of plastic bags.

A local levy was a “small lever” that could make a big difference, he said in a parliamentary debate on the issue.

However, Conservative MP for Rugby Mark Pawsey said “voluntary” efforts to cut consumption would be much more effective. For the government, environment minister David Heath said officials were “monitoring” the impact of the charges in Wales and hoped to make an “early evaluation” of the evidence.

In response, Pawsey said: “Does the Minister acknowledge that plastic carrier bags are part of an important industry?

“The packaging industry employs 85,000 people in the UK, is responsible for a turnover of £11bn and represents 3% of the manufacturing industry.”

Shoppers in Wales have been paying five pence per carrier bag since charges were introduced in October.

Goldsmith, the MP for Richmond Park and long-standing environmental campaigner, told MPs that the move had proved “wildly popular” and had resulted in a huge fall in usage.

Of all the waste we generate, the plastic bag is surely the most idiotic”

M&S, Ikea and Lidl

Although companies such as M&S, Ikea and Lidl had introduced charges for single-use plastic bags Goldsmith said overall usage was still rising and there was “growing pressure” for ministers to act.

“We are an incredibly wasteful country,” he said. “Of all the waste we generate, the plastic bag is surely the most idiotic.”

Of the three possible solutions to the problem, the MP said an outright ban on plastic bags was “too crude” while there was “no appetite” for a general tax that was likely to be seen as a “green stealth tax”.

He said: “The alternative is a levy, applied in the shops – a light touch – with the funds distributed to local causes.

“There are any number of ways the money could be spent.”

Defending packaging

However Pawsey, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Packaging Manufacturing Industry, said plastic bags accounted for less than 1% of all household waste and the levy being proposed was unlikely to have a “significant impact” on overall waste levels.

He added: “If we reduce the use of plastic carrier bags, we simply encourage people to buy plastic bags from other sources to do the job that carrier bags are currently fulfilling.”

Yesterday (18 October) Pawsey spoke at the CPI Senior Management Symposium in London. He recalled his previous experience working in the packaging industry and praised it.

New law

Heath confirmed that a charge could be introduced in England, if it was deemed to be “efficacious”, without having to introduce new legislation, although any such move would have to be subject to a consultation.

“This is something where we all have an opportunity to change our behaviour to make sure fewer bags end up in landfill.”

Northern Ireland plans to introduce a bag charge from April while the Scottish government is currently consulting on the issue. The Republic of Ireland has had a charge since 2002.

‘It’s time to call a halt to this kind of misinformation’

Packaging and Films Association chief executive Barry Turner told Packaging News: “For more than ten years the call for taxes on plastic bags has diverted attention from the macro environmental issues.

“This latest campaign by green group lobbyists ignores the science from the Government’s own Environment Agency Life Cycle Analysis and repeats the emotion-based myths. Let’s not forget that the total annual UK consumption of plastic carrier bags is equivalent in carbon impacts to two hours flight activity at Heathrow and yet around 80% of plastic bags are re-used at least once.

“We have also more than halved the impacts of plastic carrier bags since we took voluntary action. Taxing plastic bags simply shifts shoppers and retailers to alternatives which have far bigger impacts. It’s time to call a halt to this kind of misinformation.”

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