Government ‘dithering’ over plastic bag issue, say campaigners

A Jesmond campaign group encouraging locals to re-use their bags when shopping is concerned the government is disinterested in charging shoppers for the right to use environmentally-harmful plastic carrier bags, 8 billion of which were used by Britons in 2011.

Taken from *Seth’s photostream on flickr under the creative commons licence

Taken from *Seth’s photostream on flickr under the creative commons licence

The issue is a divisive one, with plans to introduce charges on bags supported by 56% of adults polled by The Independent in September 2012. Now Tony Waterston of Transition Jesmond, a group seeking to maintain the environment in the region, is actively pushing government to listen to the public’s views and impose a charge on non-recyclable bags.

The issue has reached Westminster: Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East, raised a question in Parliament on behalf of the campaign group about a proposed 5p charge on carrier bags. Richard Benyon, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responded that the government is continuing to consider their options. “This includes monitoring the results of the single-use carrier bag charging scheme in Wales, Northern Ireland’s plan to launch a charge from April 2013, and the outcome of the Scottish consultation on a charge,” he said.

Something must be done, campaigners believe. A recent annual survey by waste reduction agency Wrap found that England’s trend of using throwaway bags is increasing by 7.5% in the last year. In contrast, it fell in Wales by 22% (where a charging scheme is already in place) and by 90% in Ireland.

Additionally, the Under Secretary of State noted that current economic strains are preventing the implementation of a scheme. Tony Waterston told JesmondLocal that “this is a very short sighted and illogical view since no one needs to pay for a bag – they could bring their own, as many do at the present”.

Waterston also called Benyon’s response “hopeless dithering in the face of overwhelming evidence that charging for carrier bags works for all concerned – shoppers, shops and the planet.”

Though they can’t charge customers for the use of environment-damaging plastic bags, the voluntary “Bring Your Own Bag” Jesmond campaign has seen some success. It was launched in July 2011 to demonstrate the easy alternative of carrying your own bag and helping the environment in return. Since then a network of shops has been created carrying the logo of the campaign, encouraging people to reduce the use of carrier bags.

The campaign has been supported by multiple initiatives over the years, including Tesco on Acorn Road, who distributed 3,500 re-useable bags without charge, and Waitrose, who implemented a one-week trial at self service check-outs, where people brought their own bags. Mystery shoppers also check shops are following the campaign’s guidelines to encourage the use of the customer’s own bags.

Tony Waterston, who was behind the “Bring Your Own Bag” scheme, is happy with the response from retailers. “The Acorn Road shops where the campaign began have risen to the occasion magnificently,” he said, “with almost all the retailers in the street and neighbouring areas signing up to the scheme.”

Shoppers or shops who would like to get involved can contact the Transition Jesmond Environmental Group at transitionjesmond@gmail.com

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