Over the last week, the Scottish Government has approved plans to introduce a mandatory 5p charge for carrier bags. The regulations, set to be introduced on October 20 this year, follow measures put in place by Wales and Northern Ireland to also charge for carrier bags.

Plans to introduce carrier bag charging in England have been pencilled in for 2015, but with some notable differences from the policies put in place in other UK nations. In England, there is complex guidance on the types of bags that will be included in the charge, meaning biodegradable bags and paper bags will be exempt. Additionally, current plans state that all small businesses are set to be exempt from the charge. In a report published at the start of February this year looking at the proposed regulations, the Environmental Audit Committee went as far as to say that the plans are a ‘complete mess’.

We believe that the introduction of a carrier bag charge in England will be a positive step. The introduction of a charge has been a real success in Wales, where bag usage has reduced by almost 80% with no reported negative impact on convenience retailers. In fact, retailers are telling us that charging for bags has had a positive effect on their business, demonstrating that they are conscious of their environmental impact whilst allowing them to use the funds generated from the charge to support charities and ingrain themselves further in their local communities.

A lot of ACS’ political activity is generally focused on trying to stop potentially damaging legislation from passing, and when regulation does get through ensuring that convenience retailers are given exemptions or different rules to follow to mitigate the impact on their business. In this case, we find ourselves on the other side of the fence. We appreciate that government’s intentions are good and that they want to encourage small businesses to grow, but believe that in this case they have left us out of something that could have a positive impact for both the retailers and the communities that they operate in.  We are calling for government to include all businesses in this charge and to simplify the legislation – they don’t even have far to look for a model that works, the answers are just across the Severn Bridge.