Government meddling will spoil retailers' common objectives to reduce bag use, says the ACS

You wouldn't think that something as unassuming as the plastic carrier bag could provoke heated discussion, but it raises passions in such diverse places as the fashion catwalk, Fleet Street and even 10 Downing Street.

Having spoken to many retailers, I have come to the conclusion that this issue is actually less controversial than often suggested. Most retailers want to reduce the number of bags given out, not least because it would save money. Also for many savvy ACS members it has provided an opportunity to engage their customers and reinforce the strong links between shops and local people.

This approach has been made possible because the English, Scottish and Northern Irish authorities have all decided that voluntary measures to reduce carrier bag use should be given a chance. Why, then, has the Welsh Assembly Government decided that retailers and communities cannot be trusted to reduce carrier bag usage on their own?

Last week we submitted our response to their consultation on imposing a mandatory charge for carrier bags in Wales. We are opposing this policy because, like many bright ideas, it comes with bureaucracy for retailers who would have to record and report the number of bags they are using. We also feel that local solutions tailored to the needs of the community will be more effective. What's right in a village location may be wrong in town centres and commuter points where a bag charging scheme threatens to deter customers.

Worse of all, Welsh Ministers have said that they want retailers to give them the money they make to allocate to the 'environmental funds' that they choose. If Welsh Ministers press ahead they will turn a positive community-based project into what will be viewed as an unpopular tax.

James Lowman