The carrier bag tax has been recently introduced in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, whilst it has been proposed for Scotland and England. The carrier bag tax means that shoppers must pay for any single-use shopping bags that they use. This refers to all paper and plastic bags that would be used in supermarkets, grocery stores and retail shops. Previously these types of shopping bags were free to consumers and billions were being used in the UK alone each year. The amount shoppers pay for their shopping bags varies depending on location. In Northern Ireland and Wales shoppers pay 5 pence whilst in the Republic of Ireland they pay 15 cent (9 pence).
The introduction of the carrier bag tax in these areas came about following major concerns about the negative environmental impact that single-use carrier bags were having. These negative impacts refer to the large amounts of waste produced each year from carrier bags, but also the pollution and depletion of resources both caused through production of the bags. Although nowadays many more people are reusing and recycling waste materials including single-use bags, the levels of waste produced greatly outweigh these efforts. So has the tax introduction proved effective at reducing waste?
Although the carrier bag tax has only recently been introduced in areas of the UK and Ireland there have been positive results. During the first year of the tax the number of carrier bags being used in Ireland was reduced by 90% which equates to an estimated reduction from 300 million to a much lower 23 million. The Welsh government deemed the tax as a success one year after its introduction as there was reported reductions in carrier bag use as much as 96% across retail sectors. In Northern Ireland where the tax has only recently been put in place government officials are expecting to see an 80% drop in carrier bag usage.
The attitudes of shoppers in the affected areas have definitely changed. In an effort to save money shoppers are purchasing and using bags for life when they go shopping. Bags for life are becoming increasingly popular as they help save money, offer a strong and practical shopping bag and are available in attractive, stylish designs. Many others use their own rucksack or shopping bags whilst some shoppers will reuse the single-use bags as much as possible. It is defiantly more economical for shoppers to reuse bags for life or their own bagging solution as over time constantly paying for carrier bags can really add up.
Studies have shown that 70% of Welsh people supported the carrier bag tax as they appreciated the benefits it would have on the environment both global and local. Many of the proceeds from the carrier bag taxes are actually forwarded to charities and non-profit organisations. Tesco in Wales has raised £770,000 over the year, which it has donated to RSPB Cymru.
Alongside the tax introduction the environmental concerns means that many retail stores and businesses have to change the types of shopping bags that they offer to their customers. Most shops and supermarkets now provide bags for life and responsibly sourced single-use bags which include plastic and paper bags that have been made from recycled materials. Many plastic bags now are also being made biodegradable meaning they can break down and decay within 3-6 months. Non-biodegradable plastic bags can take between 400-1000 years to fully breakdown and even then still exist as small pieces of waste that are especially dangerous to land and marine animals. Responsibly sourced paper bags are manufactured using trees that have been cut down from sustainable forests. Many wholesale bags suppliers offer more environmentally friendly bag options especially with a massive shift in popularity and usage of reusable bags for life made from cotton, fabric, jute and polypropylene materials.
The introduction of the carrier bag taxes have definitely proven effective at reducing waste and it is a step that many other regions should consider opting into in order to preserve the environment for future generations.