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Carrier bag levy: a mixed bag
For the past couple of years, one of the hot topics across the world has been plastic carrier bags and their role in society. In order to reduce carrier bag consumption, from next year in Wales most carrier bags below a certain size and thickness – including those that are certified as compostable according to European Standards – will be subject to a 7p levy. In theory, this is a laudable move, but will it actually improve the wider environment in Wales?
Introducing fiscal measures on single-use carrier bags is viewed as key to reducing carrier bag waste and litter, but by not exempting certified compostable carrier bags, the levy fails to address a much more damaging waste stream: food waste.
Every local authority in Wales has targets for the collection and biological treatment of food waste and in order to gain the highest levels of participation and capture rates, it is well agreed that the provision of caddy liners plays a key role. During a presentation in February, Owain Griffiths of the Welsh Local Government Association used the procurement of compostable kitchen caddy liners as an example of how Welsh local authorities could benefit by joint procurement. Mirroring the views previously expressed by Dr Andy Rees, Head of Waste Strategy in Wales, Griffiths stated that liners were essential to achieving the 12 per cent food waste targets and that authorities would need to procure up to 230 million liners per year. Depending on size, this quantity of liners will cost in the region of £10 million per year. Given the likely need to make cuts to spending across local authorities, an additional spend of this level is unlikely; however, without the liners, food waste targets will not be met.
So, why not exempt specially-designed compostable carrier bags, which are significantly stronger than caddy liners and meet supermarket carrier bag specifications, so they can first be reused as shopping bags and reused again as alternatives to kitchen caddy liners?
A potential solution involves: increasing the proposed levy to a high enough level to actually deliver reduced consumption of single-use plastic carrier bags – Ireland is considering doubling its €0.22 tax; exempting certified EN13432 compostable carrier bags, which will be charged at cost (<10p); requiring compostable bags to be EN13432 certified and to be labelled to promote their reuse as shoppers and then in food waste collections.
This could achieve: local authority savings of up to £10million per year; increased likelihood of authorities meeting their 12 per cent food waste targets without incurring additional cost; significantly reduced contamination at biological treatment facilities from traditional plastic bags (due to the price differential and on-bag / in-store communication); significant contributions to Wales’ carbon reduction targets (by using renewable resources to produce carrier bags that are reused
to divert organic waste from landfill); increased
VAT revenues from the sales of compostable
This may seem like fanciful thinking, but it is already happening – on a significant scale in Italy, but also in the UK. Recently, the Co-operative supermarket, in partnership with Oldham Council, launched the UK’s first scheme to promote charged (6p) compostable carrier bags with the direct intention that they be reused as shoppers and then as food waste liners. Mark Husdan, Waste Minimisation and Recycling Manager at Oldham Council, explains the rationale behind the scheme: “When we first introduced food waste collections the main concerns for Oldham were the cost and sustainability of resupplying liners to residents. We choose instead to work with Gardening Delights to set up a local network of community-based stores selling liners. The new Co-op partnership has developed this network and brought many significant benefits from increasing the availability of suitable liners to reducing plastic bag consumption and contamination at our composting facility.”
Thus, through one single exemption, it is possible not only to reach the overall reduction and reuse goals of the proposed levy, but also to improve the efficacy of local authority food waste collections without impacting on budgets. In its current form, the proposed carrier bag levy represents a missed and potentially expensive opportunity, but it’s not too late to help make sustainable development a reality in Wales.
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