Scottish Parliament approves carrier bag charge

A five pence charge for single-use carrier bags will come into effect in Scotland from 20 October, after Scottish Parliament approved the regulations governing the charge yesterday (28 May).

The charge, which follows a similar levy placed on plastic bags in Wales, was first announced by Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead in June 2013 to ‘encourage shoppers to think about reusing bags to prevent litter and improve Scotland’s environment’.

The approved Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 will require all Scottish retailers to charge a minimum of five pence per single-use bag from 20 October 2014 in a bid to reduce the 750 million bags used in Scotland each year.

However, the charge is not a tax, as money raised from the levy will not be going back to government. Instead, retailers are expected to donate net proceeds (estimated by the Scottish Government to be ‘up to £5 million a year’) to ‘good causes’.

The charge will apply to single-use bags of any material, not just plastic, and all retailers will be required to charge customers for using them, not just supermarkets. However, smaller businesses will be exempt from the requirement to report the numbers of bags sold and how much of the levy they have given to charity. Instead, these businesses will be expected to publish some form of public statement of this information on their premises, such as a poster.

Under the regulations, some forms of single-use bag will be exempt from the levy – mainly for health and safety and privacy – such as bags for prescriptions, certain fresh foods (including fruit and unpackaged meat or fish) and unpackaged blades.

The Scottish Government has estimated that the charge could yield a net benefit of around £90 million over the forecast period of 15 years, after accounting for the individual impacts for all players.

'Creating a cleaner, greener environment for everyone to enjoy'

Welcoming the decision, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “I am delighted that the Scottish Government’s regulations on carrier bag charging have been approved by Parliament. This is landmark legislation that underlines Scotland is serious about tackling litter, reducing waste and creating a cleaner, greener environment for everyone to enjoy.

“The vast number of single use carrier bags given out in Scotland is symbolic of our throwaway society. By requiring retailers to charge at least 5p per bag we want shoppers to stop and think about what we discard. Instead of taking another bag that could end up as litter, we want people to re-use their bags or consider alternatives like bags for life.”

He added that the government and Zero Waste Scotland will continue to work with retailers to help them understand how the charge will work and what the impact will be on business. A marketing campaign highlighting the introduction of the charges and reminding members of the public to reuse bags will commence on 25 September and run for five weeks.

Lochhead concluded: “The level of support from the Scottish public is extremely heartening and I hope we can repeat the real success achieved in other counties, where similar measures have been brought in. I urge everyone to get behind it.”

Ian Gulland, Director of Zero Waste Scotland, also welcomed the final step of the legislation process, saying that it was a “a hugely positive step which will help to reduce the number of bags in use and therefore the number ending up as litter in [Scotland’s] communities”.

All of the countries in the UK now either have a bag levy, or have plans to introduce one, after the UK Government announced that England is to see its own charge in autumn 2015. 

Read the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014.