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Plastic bag use rises but you think they should be free

No plastic bag sign

Figures out today show the UK’s using more plastic bags, but usage in Ireland, where they charge for bags, is dropping. Meanwhile, our poll of over 3,000 shows huge support for free bags. Will our cynics be swayed?

Back in November I reported on plans to ban free plastic bags in Wales and asked whether paying 5p per bag would help make us greener.

Your comments rolled in – many agreed that paying for bags was the way forward, but others were firmly against the idea – creating a healthy, balanced debate.

Let’s pay for bags

‘[The charge] definitely changed things in Ireland when they introduced it in 2002,’ enthused Mhanley. ‘It has cut down the number of plastic bags that were often seen flying about as litter, I think it’s a great thing to have introduced this. I don’t know why the UK has taken so long to get there.’

Sophie Gilbert agreed, but went one step further, asking, ‘I wonder if just 5p is going to be that big a deterrent. Maybe 20p would be better.’

And, for Fat Sam, ‘it shouldn’t cost us anything other than a change in attitude – we remember to take the strong bags as much as we remember to take [our] wallet. It’s a no brainer. No excuse. Do not pass Go until you re-use your bags.’

Then we watched as the poll votes rocketed through the roof. With nearly 3,500 votes, this is easily our most popular poll to date – and the results paint quite a different picture to the comments.

Bags should be free

Over 80% of you (2,480 people) insisted that plastic bags should be free. A further 12% thought paying 5p per bag was about right, and only 7% thought they should cost more.

So what were the arguments against the scheme? Peter Robinson raised the issue of reusing them as bin bags. ‘We have a kitchen waste bucket and we line it with supermarket bags. If bags are abolished I will have to purchase rolls of bin liners,’ he argued, with many others backing him up.

Meanwhile, Mal admitted that charging for carriers has changed their attitude in the opposite way: ‘I did the majority of my food shopping at Marks & Spencer for the best part of twenty years until they started charging for bags. I haven’t shopped there since.’

UK plastic bag use on the rise

So, who’s right? Obviously, I’m biased, but I spotted some new figures about plastic bag use today, and they seem to point firmly in favour of charging for bags.

While plastic bag use in Britain rises, usage in Ireland (which imposed a tax on plastic bags in 2002) has fallen dramatically. Figures by the New Statesman from official government sources show that the monthly number of bags used by each person in the UK dropped from 11 in 2002 to 7.2 in 2009 and then rose to 7.7 last year. In Ireland, figures compiled from plastic bag tax receipts show usage has dropped from 27 in 2002 to just two in 2009.

With those numbers, it’s hard to argue that the tax isn’t having a strong impact on consumer behaviour in Ireland. So if you were one of those 81% who said bags should be free, has it changed your mind – or will you wait and see how Wales fares when it introduces its ban in October?

What do you think about paying for plastic bags?

They should be free (81%, 2,841 Votes)

5p per bag is about right (12%, 418 Votes)

We should pay more than 5p (7%, 238 Votes)

Total Voters: 3,497

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Well personally I thought making people pay 5p a bag was a wonderful deterrant and constant reminder to people about the environmental impact that accepting plastic throwaway bags has.

Estimates of usage vary considerably with wasteonline estimating 17.5 billion bags are used in the UK every year (290 bags for every person in the UK).

Having a small fee of 5p serves as a reminder of the environmental impact of my shopping habits which surely is a good thing. Even 1 less plastic bag per person per year adds up to a considerable amount of waste generated by our population – so all efforts at waste reduction are appreciated. And a 5p fee keeps really is nothing in the great scheme of things.


Aren’t bio degradable ones available?

I’m goingto make myself very unpopular and say that the resistance to charges for bags demonstrates that the general public, even the Which? reading ones, are only interested in being green if they think there is something in it for them.

If it’s going to cost them in some way, or take away something that is convenient (i.e. lazy) Joe Public doesn’t give a t0ss

If a tax on plastic bags worked in Ireland, there is a fair chance it would work elsewhere. Decent bags can be reused hundreds of times, so it would be an avoidable tax.

Dave Derwent is right.

maryt says:
10 March 2011

For well over a decade, probably two, supermarkets in France have charged for plastic bags including the ‘bag for life’ or a bag which can be reused as a bin bag. The system works fine and the threat of having to pay for a throwaway bag is a powerful reminder to carry one with you. Casual observation at my local Tesco yesterday lunchtime showed no-one using a ‘bag for life’. Most regular carrier bags have holes in them and so are not even good for bin-bags. Meanwhile many councils are being forced to cut bin and recycling services. I really don’t think their are any good arguments to allow the practice of offering free carrier bags to continue. Please Which? get a campaign going.