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Will paying for plastic bags make us greener?

Plastic bags and green bag for life

If you live in Wales you’ll have to pay 5p for every new plastic carrier bag from next year. Is this an eco-friendly scheme that should be rolled out across the UK or just another way to squeeze money out of shoppers?

I’ve got a confession to make. Last night, having rushed to the supermarket straight from work, I packed my shopping into fresh plastic carrier bags.

There, I’ve said it. It’s not an easy thing for me to admit – I like to think I’m as green as I can be, especially when it comes to easy things like reusing bags.

And, while I’ve got piles of strong ‘bags for life’ at home, I still keep kicking myself mid-shop when I realise that I’ve left them at home – again.

Wales is leading the way

I know I’m not alone. In September YouGov polled consumers on this subject and found that 43% often use a ‘bag for life’, yet just over a third still use free plastic bags provided by the retailer.

But would charging us for every bag we use change these figures? Welsh politicians seem to think so. Last week the Welsh Assembly announced that, from 1 October 2011, shoppers will have to pay 5p for each plastic carrier bag they want when they’re out shopping.

That would have set me back around 50p last night. It’s not going to break the bank, but it might well nudge me into leaving a few strong bags in the car at all times (something I regularly tell myself to do, but never have to date).

Scheme should be countrywide

There are a few shops that have introduced this scheme nationally – Marks & Spencer and Holland & Barrett spring to mind. Last year, M&S told us that since charging shoppers 5p for plastic bags it’s cut the number handed out from 464 million to 77 million. Impressive stuff – just think how many more could be cut with a proper roll out.

And that’s the crux of the issue for me. While some shops obviously need to lead the way, I can’t help but think that Wales has the right idea. Surely the scheme needs all retailers on board to really get into people’s mindsets and work properly?

YouGov’s survey revealed that public opinion is mixed on whether this would be successful. Nearly a third agrees that charging for carriers will reduce the overall number being used, while 24% think these schemes are a ploy by supermarkets to make more money.

Where do you stand on this? Would paying for plastic bags force you to bring your own, or would it just mean you’re paying a higher price to pack your shopping?

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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so-called biodegradeable bags do not rot down in composters. My last batch of compost was spoilt by the disgusting taks of picking out all the strands on unrotted bags from the lovely brown mixture. I will never use them again

Worried says:
27 November 2010

Why have plastic bags anyway? If we are going to have to pay for bags, why can’t we buy brown paper bags, (made from recycled paper) that would not harm the environment and could provide local councils with a regular income from their recycled paper.

It’s interesting to read the comments here and it makes me wonder what the average age of the contributors is or, possibly, whether my experience is less “average” than I thought:

When I first started working in 1986 I worked for Beatties of London (the toy chain) at their Sheffield branch. I was with Beatties for just over 8 years and worked in their stores up and down the country. Beatties carrier bags were listed on the tills and charged at 1p each for all “normal” bags (i.e. they had handles) and 2p each for the “bin liner” size that you used for such as scalextric sets. Now, to be fair, we didn’t always charge – especially at very busy times – and that was wrong because it was unfair, however, I don’t recall any customer complaining when charged for a bag at all.

Prior to leaving my parents home in 1986 I had only ever known the Co-Op for grocery shopping as my parents were fiercely loyal to the Co-Op and would not shop anywhere else. They didn’t have bags, at all. If you wanted to put your shopping in something to take it home you collected an empty cardboard box from the end of the store where they stacked up the boxes that had been emptied to fill the shelves.

All through the 8 years I was working in retail it seemed quite usual for supermarkets to have boxes on offer and most seemed to charge 2 or 5p each for bags – Gateway (later Somerfield, now the Co-Op) was my local and regular shop and they certainly charged 5p each for carriers until quite some time after they became Somerfield.

At both the Co-Op and the shops I used between 1986 and 1994 I don;t recall ever hearing anyone complain about paying for bags, having to bring their own or using boxes.

Was I in a very unusual parallel universe or have other contributors forgotten those times or not lived through them?

My own theory, and it is a guess, is that bags started to be given free with every purchase because it was an easy way to show that the goods had been paid for and with the massive upsurge in shoplifting this became an important point. It would be hard to insist that a customer bought a bag they did not want just to prove that they were not shoplifting, so I’m guessing that might be why bags started being dished out like confetti for no charge?

I absolutely agree with everyone who says that we SHOUDL charge, that we should charge for bags for ALL purchases, and that the charge should be 5p or more. I do, however, think that shops should make available boxes and other eco-friendly and free (because they have already been used for their designated purpose) ways to carry things home and I also think that the old Sainsbury’s idea of 1p off your bill for each bag you bring with you, as an incentive for the more forgetful, are also very sound ideas.

I remember when brown paper bags with handles were the norm – easily recycled.- and free. Now the plastic bags from large shops and supermarket are emblazoned with a large advertisement about the store – so these should be free.why should I pay to advertise the shop?

If they charge then the bag should be strong enough to be used many times.

Cardboard boxes would only be useful if the shopper has a car to carry the goods – can you imagine carrying a large cardboard box on a bus or a train?

Wasnt there some complaints that paper bags were not ‘environmentally friendly’ as of course paper came from trees? So to combat this we switched to plastic ones instead and now the greenies hate those as well.

maryt says:
17 December 2010

No supermarket in France offers free plastic bags. As here, the ‘bag for life’ is around 5 cents. So you remember to carry these or find ways to get your goods home without paying more. As long as bags are free most will not bother to think about the problem – I’m astounded that the vast majority of Which? respondents think, and even rationalise, that bags should be provided free. Why, when the cost to the environment can be avoided so easily? Paper bags still have to be recycled. I’ve probably had about 3 replacement ‘bags for life’ since they were first introduced maybe ten years ago. We should all pay for plastic bags and if the cost to the environment is more than 5p. then we should pay it. It is perfectly simple to avoid this payment with a little forethought.

Blown away by the amount of votes in this poll – almost 2,000 think that plastic bags in supermarkets should be free. Wow.

I am not surprised. It will probably take time and possibly need legislation before plastic bags disappear from UK supermarkets.

I use them only when I’m forced to use one of the stupid self-service tills in Tesco. They will not let me use my own bags unless I summon help.

Which is full of communists, ive concluded. Legislation here, legislation there, campaigning to ban everything you dont like and more interested in controlling other peoples lives than your own. You’re ‘shocked’ that people think bags should be free, disbelieving that the public hasnt been silenced by Which? propaganda and political correctness.

People are still allowed their own opinions, but it seems you all want Britain to stop being a free country and instead be incorperated into the Communistical United states of Europe.

RIP Britain

I certainly want to see a return of free paper shopping bags. I always re-use my plastic bags but they are very weak and split easily – I refuse to pay for an advert laden shopping bag of any type..

Richard, turn the bag inside out and then fill it up. See the scorn on the shop managers face!

Rachel says:
4 February 2011

I am afraid that I am of the opposite persuasion!! My opinion is do away with plastic bags altogether in supermarkets. They don’t have them in Germany. You have to bring your own bags/boxes etc. and everyone just does it, just like you would pick up your handbag or purse/wallet to go shopping. Its a cultural thing, we should get used to doing that over here. We are too used to having the convenience of plastic bags and it’s time we weaned ourselves off them! I have a supply of the strong bags that supermarkets sell. They are actually much better for packing shopping in than flimsy bags and I try and keep them in the car, so even if I forget them, I can just load the trolley back up and pack when I get to the car. I also have two of those little packaway bags from Sainsburys, the ones with the kangaroo on them that easily fold into a tiny pouch. I carry them in my handbag so I can put general shopping in them when I go round the shops in town to save bags that way too.

I like the fact that shops now ask if you want a bag rather than assuming that the goods must go in their own bag. You have a receipt after all to prove you’ve bought the item. I prefer to shop at a supermarket that does not put plastic bags out, so you have to ask, increasing the guilt factor! The Co-op charges for their bags and I am sure this really keeps the frivolous handing out of bags right down. If you can’t do away with bags in supermarkets, at least charge for them, this would at least make people more take a less wasteful attitude! We are too used to having what we want when we want it without considering what impact we have by doing so. I include myself in this!

Rachel if you love Germany so much then move to Germany. This is Britain, not Germany. Why should we be forced to do things differently just because other countries do it? Why arent we going to Germany telling them to have free bags because ‘it works in Britain.’ Why is it so politically incorrect to disagree with the ‘Europe does it, so should we’ argument? Perhaps its in their culture to plan a trip to the shops, what if you were out and out of nowhere went ‘ooo i could do with picking up some things’ then have to drive back home and get bags etc, doesnt sound very Green does it?

‘Europe does it so we’re wrong and they’re right lets copy them’ nonsense.

On the other hand, its surprising supermarkets havent charged for bags from day one. It must cost money somewhere along the line to manufacture them, if charging for it wasnt introduced as a ‘green measure’ people probably wouldnt mind. About 5p for a bag sounds about right, my local Co Op has big ones for 2p or the more robust bags for 10p. If you’re buying £100 worth of shopping you dont mind 5p. When you order them online you can give the bags back the following week for recycling. Surely at 5p a bag, if each ‘weekly shopper’ uses lets say 10, thats another 50p a customer, i wonder what that adds up to over a year?

Rachel i have no problem in asking for a bag. In fact next time i need one i’ll ask for five just so as i know im annoying you. You base your shopping preferance on which shop guilts paying customers (customer is ALWAYS right) into paying for a bag? How empty is your life?

I agree with peter robinson. A better solution would be to make the supermarkers etc. provide bio degradeable plastic bags at no extra charge. The shop plastic bags avoid the need to purchase plastic bin liners, even Tescos

Oddlyuk says:
29 September 2011

I think that the carriers should now all be plain, no logos, no colour coding. I have absolutely no problem paying for a plain one but I’m not paying to advertise. Carrier bags have never been “free”. No business gives anything away. I have always brought my own bags for the weekly shop but do forget when I pop into my local convenience store, so this will spur me on to keep a couple in my handbag.
Just to annoy the snobbier supermarkets though I may bring my budget shop carriers to pack my shopping in.Childish me? Perhaps!

Sarah says:
24 June 2012

We have already paid for our precious plastic bags and what with you ask? The world of course and all the other animals on this plannet are now going to suffer because of it. we have destroyed the future of this planet and all the over animals whose home it is with our selfish addiction to pollution.

Don D De Freitas says:
10 August 2015

A lot of people nowadays would not remember that we used to have to pay for carrier bags back in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s until a group of us complained that although we paid for the bags we did not have the choice of paying for plain bags – they all had the shops logo on them and we objected to paying the shops for the privilege of advertising for them. The press took it up and the big supermarkets decided that it was better to give them for free than remove the logo. Does the new law give the consumer the right to demand a plain bag? If not, why not?

Don, what surprises me is how people pay good money for fashion clothes that carry logos. If it was a fair world the manufacturers should pay you a daily rate whenever you wear their designer T-shirt or top. I’d still go for reusable bags – much nicer in use – but for the unexpected shop I don’t mind 5p for a carrier with the retailer on it – it goes out of sight in the car pretty quickly.

The right carrier bag [e.g. Lidl] is a status symbol whereas a designer tee-shirt is not! It also amazes me that people think “Superdry” is a Japanese brand [it’s British]. The power of marketing.

raymond says:
1 October 2015

I think it is not good because peoples recycles them. i leave in London on 17 floor . I wont go down to recycle bins if I don’t have bags to recycle

It is real simple. No1 no bags no bags to manufacture No2 No disposable bags to plastic bag tree’s/lay around and No3 less waste. The whole of Northern Ireland looks loads better since the charge started there

we already recycle our carriers by using them in the kitchen bins ,we will now have to go out and buy more pedal bin liners ,which defeats the whole exercise . While we agree it would be worthwhile if it helped the environment /charities or again will we find 2 years down the line another scam where we have once again ripped off . What happened to the bio- degradable bags ?

The real scam is what are described as biodegradable carrier bags, because they are not really biodegradable.

The majority of my rubbish goes in the recycling bin is clean and dry and is collected in a kitchen bin with no liner. The council says that items for recycling must not be in bags, so bin liners would have to be emptied.