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

Gordon Brown called the carrier bag “a symbol of a wasteful society” and increasingly retailers are under pressure to show that they are taking action to reduce the number of bags they give away.  

Having spoken to many retailers, I have come to the conclusion that this issue is actually less controversial than often suggested. Very few retailers believe that giving away large numbers of free carrier bags is desirable, and most 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 to succeed. Why then has the Welsh Assembly Government decided that retailers and communities cannot be trusted to reduce carrier bag usage on their own?

Bright ideas bring bureaucracy

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 in reducing bag use.  

What’s right in a village location may be wrong in locations like town centres and commuter points where a bag charging scheme threatens to deter customers and reduce the number of items a customer is willing to purchase.  

Unnecessary and counter-productive

As they stand, the plans from the Welsh Government are not only potentially damaging to local shops but also unnecessary and counter-productive. I really do fear that by regulating in this way the Welsh Government will undermine a lot of the great voluntary initiatives currently in place, and that they will damage our common objective to reduce bag use - not to mention contravening basic principles of better regulation.

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 be turning a positive community based project into what will be viewed as an unpopular tax.