Resource Use

Scottish bag charge comes into effect

Retailers in Scotland have begun charging customers a minimum of five pence (5p) for single-use carrier bags, as part of the Scottish Government’s aim to reduce litter.

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’.

Yesterday (20 October) marked the first day of the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 coming into effect, and involves all high-street stores, corner shops and online retailers to charge for single-use plastic, paper and biodegradable bags. It is hoped that the fee will encourage shoppers to their own, reusable bags, and reduce the number of bags issued in the country (currently around 800 million bags a year).

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’.

Retailers are also being urged to sign up to the Carrier Bag Commitment, run by Zero Waste Scotland, which commits them to donating their proceeds from the charge to good causes in Scotland, such as environmental causes, and report how many bags they’ve sold and how the money has been used. In return, they’ll be able to use dedicated reporting tools to simplify the process, and take part in communications activities that promote their businesses and the good causes they are supporting.

‘Extremely proud that this landmark legislation is now in force’

Speaking yesterday, Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: ”I’m extremely proud that this landmark legislation is now in force. Our carrier bag addiction is symptomatic of our throwaway culture and has serious implications for the environment. Huge numbers of these bags end up as litter, blighting our communities and clogging up our seas and natural habitats, affecting many sorts of wildlife and marine species in particular.

“We want that to change and for people to stop and think about whether they really need to take another bag. Alternatives like bags for life are easy to get and are much more sustainable.

“We’ve seen that similar charges have been extremely successful in other countries such as Wales and Northern Ireland. I’m confident that Scotland can experience similar benefits and look forward to seeing a significant reduction in our use of carrier bags over the coming months and years.”

Iain Gulland, Director of Zero Waste Scotland (the body that helps implement Scotland’s ‘Zero Waste Strategy’), added: “In Scotland we use hundreds of millions of single-use bags a year – an absurdity when you consider the resources used to make and transport an item for one use, before ending up as landfill or litter. The Carrier Bag Charge is an extremely positive step to cut the number of bags in circulation and prevent them ending up as litter, as well as encouraging re-use habits among shoppers.”

He said that he ‘looked forward’ to seeing ‘many more’ retailers sign up to the Carrier Bag Commitment.

The Scottish charge follows similar levies introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland, which have reportedly led to drops in carrier bag use by 80 and 70 per cent respectively.

England will also come into line with the devolved nations and charge 5p per plastic carrier bag from next autumn, although the English proposals have been heavily criticised.

Find out more about the Scottish carrier bag charge.

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