Tax on plastic bags raises millions for good causes

A charge on plastic bags that came into force in Wales four years ago has helped reduce their use by more than 70 percent and generated millions for charity. 

Jae C. Hong/AP
Two women wait for a bus after their grocery shopping in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 24, 2012. Charges on plastic bags in Wales have helped reduce their use by more than 70 per cent.

In Wales, single-use carrier bags are no longer given away for free to shoppers.

Customers are charged a minimum of 5 pence per bag in an effort by the government to cut back on their excessive use.  

A review of the policy estimates that since the charge was enacted, between $25 million (£17 million) and $33 million (£22 million) has been raised. The money raised is collected by the retailers and passed along to charities and volunteer groups.

According to the report, which was commissioned by the Welsh government, 74 percent of consumers say they are supportive of the charge.

The report also indicated that 84 percent of retailers said the charge had either had a neutral or positive impact on their business.

The 5 pence charge on plastic bags was introduced in Wales in October 2011. It has since been implemented in Scotland and Northern Ireland and will be launched in England this fall.

Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant said the levy had produced a significant shift in consumer habits.

“Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce a ... charge in order to reduce consumption and the associated environmental impacts. We wanted the people of Wales to get into the habit of reusing their bags when shopping,” Sargeant told the Guardian.

“I am pleased that almost four years on from the introduction of the charge in Wales consumer habits appear to be changing which is having a positive knock on effect on the environment as well as raising a significant amount of money for good causes.”

Britain’s department for environment food and rural affairs estimated that in 2013, supermarkets gave out over 8 billion single-use carrier bags across the UK – nearly 130 bags per person.

According to the department, many of these bags end up as litter - on streets, beaches, and in the countryside.

There are some other European governments that have taken initiatives to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags.

In 1994, for instance, Denmark introduced a tax on plastic and paper bags for retailers. According to EU data, the introduction of the tax halved the consumption from around 800 million bags to 400 million bags, which amounts to around 80 bags per person annually. 

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