In their infinite wisdom, the European Union risked further alienating people in Britain last night by calling for a ban on plastic shopping bags. The move, designed to benefit the environment, will mean imposing an expensive tax on shopping bags or banning them altogether.
Retailers have reacted angrily to the suggestion, claiming it will damage the already precarious state of the economy by putting people off shopping. It could dramatically reduce impulse purchases, or force people into buying expensive semi-permanent bags instead. Richard Dodd, spokesman of the British Retail Consortium said yesterday:
“A Europe-wide ban on bags is unnecessary. It is likely to alienate customers from the green agenda, which is the opposite of what the European Union is trying to do. It is not appropriate for the EU to get involved.”
“Retailers have been very successful already at working with customers on reducing the number of bags handed out. This has been achieved on a voluntary basis and is the best way. Many people already carry their own bags around with them – but because they want to, not because they are being forced to.”
“Climate change is important, but these bags are the wrong focus and should not be demonised. They are not the major issue. Food waste, for example, is a far more important issue.”
But the European Commission are keen to make the case for the environment. EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said:
“Fifty years ago, the single-use plastic bag was almost unheard of. Now we use them for a few minutes and they pollute our environment for decades. That’s why we are looking at all the options, including a Europe-wide ban on plastic carrier bags.”
“Social attitudes are evolving and there is a widespread desire for change. We need the views of as many people as possible to complement our scientific analyses and help drive policy on this issue, which is suffocating our environment.”
Efforts to move consumers from disposable plastic bags to reusable, more durable bags have resulted in every home in the country having dozens of these ‘bags-for-life’ which are summarily forgotten virtually every time anyone goes shopping, leading to the purchase of yet more. While they have various uses around the home such as rubbish bags and storage, this is not solving an environmental issue.
To change habits which are so entrenched in Britain requires a step change in behaviour. Many supermarkets are leading the way with loyalty incentives for re-using bags, which is more likely to work as a subtle way of influencing people. We do not need the E.U. to legislate a solution to this problem.
Previous research by the Government-funded Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) (reported in The Telegraph) found that a levy on plastic bags in Ireland only made matters worse. They revealed that plastic bags make up less than 1 percent of litter, which is highly efficient compared to other forms of packaging. Industry bodies claimed Ireland's levy led to a fivefold increase in the use of plastic. Although WRAP doubted this figure, they were certain more plastic would be used as thicker, heavier rubbish bags would be used instead. They warned that local authorities may end up paying more in administration for the tax than they would receive from implementing it.