Environmental charities have joined forces to urge the Government to put a levy on single-use plastic bags in England after successful schemes in Wales and the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland and Scotland are due to introduce a ‘bag tax’ soon, leaving England the only part of the British Isles without such a scheme to reduce the use of plastic.
Now the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) have joined forces to press for an English levy.
Together they have launched the ‘Break the Bag Habit’ campaign.
Over the past two years, the number of carrier bags used in England has increased despite repeated Government calls for retailers to reduce the numbers they give out.
Last year businesses in the UK issued plastic bags at a rate of 254 a second. A total of eight billion ‘thin-gauge’ plastic bags were issued during 2011 - a 5.4 per cent increase on the 7.6 billion bags issued in 2010.
The campaigners said all of this net growth in the use of such plastic bags came from England, the only home nation not to have a single-use bag levy in place or to be actively seeking to implement one.
Samantha Harding, CPRE Stop the Drop Campaign Manager, says: “Bag levies have been proven to work in Ireland and Wales. A levy is coming soon to Northern Ireland and Scotland is already consulting on introducing one. Why must the English countryside be the last to benefit from good environmental policies?”
After the first year of charging 5p per bag, the number of single-use bags issued has fallen by between 70 and 96 per cent, as estimated by retailers. In turn, public support for the Welsh bag levy has grown to 70 per cent.
When Ireland introduced a plastic bag levy in 2002, plastic bag use fell by 90 per cent. Before the Irish levy plastic bags made up five per cent of visible litter, afterwards it dropped to 0.32 per cent.
Phil Barton, Keep Britain Tidy’s Chief Executive, says: “The sight of a carrier bag blowing down the high street like tumbleweed is one with which we are all familiar. It is time to tackle this problem once and for all and we urge the government to follow Wales’ example and introduce a levy in England.”
Welsh MPs from all parties have praised the success of the bag tax in Wales.