The Cost of Plastic Bags in the UK

is charging the answer?

is charging the answer?

According to the Financial Times, the UK’s Coalition government is split over making the English pay for supermarket bags.

There is debate and unrest between the Liberal Democrats who have recently accused Conserative Treasury ministers of thwarting an attempt to force English supermarkets to impose charges for their combined seven billion plastic bags which are used annualy in their stores.

Plastic bag use is an issue world wide, or rather the issue is ensuring the billions of plastic bags in circulation are recycled responsibly and in line with environmental guidelines, but that can be difficult to administer.

In Scotland, the decision has already been made to impose a 5 pence tarif for single use plastic carrier bags. The Scottish givernment will bring this into effect from October 2014.

The BBC reports that: “The proceeds from this will go to charity, with good causes expected to receive up to £5m a year through the scheme. The latest figures from the recycling organisation Wrap, showed supermarket shoppers in Scotland used 750 million thin carrier bags in 2012 – up from 740 million the previous year. That amounts to 12 bags per person every month.”

shoppers face charges

shoppers face charges

So how will this effect the environment? Well it is hoped that this charge will lead to shoppers acting mopre responsibly about how they use and discard plastic bags. A charge will certainly make a difference to some shoppers, however many thin plastic carrier bags have a pretty limited life span and can only be used once or twice. There are also health concerns about reusing plastic bags to carry food.

The BBC has also reported this week that The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued health warning in Northern Ireland over reusable plastic bags.

Northern Ireland imposed their own 5 pence plastic bag tarif back in April 2013. The FSA said the number of food poisoning cases usually doubles over the summer and has warned of the dangers of spillages and leaks when reusing plastic carrier bags for food shopping.

A recent survey in Northern Ireland highlighted that 96% of people questioned said they had used reusable bags for food shopping, since the carrier bag levy was introduced.

The BBC article reads:

Michael Jackson of the FSA said: “Packing raw meat and fish with ready-to-eat foods can lead to spreading germs which can cause food poisoning, especially if there are any spillages or leaks from the raw meat packaging.

“While a carrier bag may look clean, there is always the potential for these germs to spread onto food which is ready to eat. That’s why it’s a good idea to have separate, identifiable bags for raw and ready-to eat-foods.”

Raw meat can contain germs that cause food poisoning, such as salmonella, E.coli and campylobacter. The FSA said to help prevent germs from spreading in carrier bags, shoppers should pack raw meat and fish separately from food that’s ready to eat; keep a bag for raw meat and fish but dispose of the bag if there has been any spillage of raw meat juices.

So while there is a genuine need to address unnessary plastic bag consumption, and to ensure recycling takes place across the UK, there still needs to be more debate nationally on how to reuse plastic bags sensibly, and perhaps work towards plastic bags which have a longer life than thin throw away plastic bags.

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