Why can't bio-degradable bags be excluded from the charge given

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             CHARGE (WALES) REGULATIONS 2010

Why are we consulting?
Involving the people of Wales in our work is an essential part of the Welsh
Assembly Government’s policy-making process. It enables you to have a say
in decisions that affect you and ensures our policies will be more informed
and effective.

Why are we proposing to charge for single use carrier bags?
The Welsh Assembly Government would like to cut the number of single use
carrier bags to reduce their environmental impact and conserve natural
resources. Its aim is to encourage wider behavioural change where
consumers reuse bags. This will help combat climate change and increase
environmental awareness, in addition to adopting more sustainable lifestyles.
Reducing single use carrier bags will go some way to improving local
environmental quality as carrier bags are a highly visible form of litter.

Why not get rid of single use carrier bags completely?
A ban on carrier bags is likely to be disproportionate and contrary to EU law,
by restricting trade access. Introducing a charge, as opposed to a ban, gives
consumers a choice about whether to pay for a bag or to bring their own and
there will still be a market for single use carrier bags.

Why not stick to the voluntary agreement?
An estimated 445 million free single use carrier bags were used in Wales last
year and we want that figure to reduce. This will require action from all
retailers and the voluntary agreement only applies to the major supermarkets
and does not account for high street retailers and small businesses.

The existing voluntary agreement to reduce single use carrier bags has
clearly made an impact, with an almost 50% reduction as at May 2009. It is
our belief that the voluntary agreement does not go far enough. The existing
voluntary agreement does not cover all retailers. In fact, the first voluntary
agreement included 21 retailers. The second agreement with the far more
stretching 50% target was only signed up for by 7 retailers – Asda; Co-op;
Marks and Spencer; Sainsbury’s; Somerfield; Tesco and Waitrose.

Experience of charging for carrier bags in other countries and amongst stores
in the UK has achieved substantial reductions in the amount of single use
carrier bags. (Republic of Ireland reduced its consumption by over 90% and
UK retailers are reporting at least an 83% reduction since introducing
voluntary charges).

Carrier bags are just a small amount of waste or litter, why bother?
Single use carrier bags do represent a small percentage of litter by weight.
However, bags are lightweight and present a number of environmental
problems. Who hasn’t seen a bag waving around in a tree, on the side of the
road, at the beach or clinging to a river bank? They are highly visible and

Won’t this lead to more plastic?
The introduction of a charge on single use carrier bags has led to reductions
of around 70-95 per cent of single use carrier bags. There may be an increase
in the purchase of bags for life but evidence suggests that if bags for life are
re-used just 7 times, the environmental impact can be reduced.

How will this benefit the environment?
This is expected to lead to a substantial reduction in single use carrier bags,
as well as promoting more sustainable behaviour. There will be benefits to the
environment for example, in terms of reducing litter, lessening the impact on
wildlife, less energy being used to create bags and in turn producing fewer
green house gases. Making a small change in how we use and think about
carrier bags can help towards tackling environmental concerns and change
consumer behaviour.


Which carrier bags are affected?
All types of single use carrier bags will be subject to the charge. The draft
Regulations defines the term ‘single use carrier bag’. The effect of that
definition is that a ‘single use carrier bag’ is a bag:

      made wholly or partly of any type of plastic;
      made wholly or partly of any type of paper; or
      made wholly or partly of any type of plant based material or natural

Will I have to pay the charge on top of the cost for my bag for life?
No, a bag for life is not a single use carrier bag, so the cost of these will not
change as a result of this policy.

Aren’t paper bags environmentally friendly?
In terms of paper bags, they have a higher environmental impact than single
use plastic carrier bags even when you take recycling into consideration.

A recent study by the Environment Agency into the environmental impacts of
various types of carrier bags concluded that in order for a paper bag to have
the same impact on the environment as a plastic bag, it would need to be
reused at least 4 times. It is unlikely that a paper bag would be durable
enough to undergo 4 reuses.

What about degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags? Aren’t
these an environmentally friendly alternative?
Degradable, biodegradable and compostable bags will be included in the
charge. There are a wide variety of alternative plastic bags on the market, and
some make very specific claims indicating that there is an environmental

benefit. We believe that such claims may give rather confusing messages to
the public in terms of the use, re-use and disposal of this type of packaging.

Degradable/Biodegradable Plastic Bags

There is a general misconception in relation to degradable bags; they do not
fully break down and are made from plastic. The plastic contains a chemical
additive that causes the plastic to degrade when exposed to sunlight or heat.
This process causes the plastic to become brittle and easily break up into
small pieces. These plastic pieces remain present in the environment as
either litter or waste.

There is some evidence to suggest that plastic oxy-degradable bags that
claim to be biodegradable may be misleading. This is because there is not
enough evidence to confirm whether these bags actually biodegrade.

Biodegradable means:

Degradation brought about by the action of naturally occurring micro-
organisms such as bacteria, fungi and algae to produce carbon dioxide,
water, minerals and organic matter.

It should also be noted that degradable/biodegradable plastic is not
compostable. These bags should not be included in waste going for
composting, because the plastic fragments remaining after the composting
process adversely affect the quality and saleability of the compost.

Compostable bags

Whilst we agree that compostable bags are an environmentally friendly
alternative when used and then composted, only compostable bags
complying with strict European standards are acceptable within commercial
and most municipal composting systems. These true compostable bags tend
to be more expensive than conventional single use carrier bags and when
they are offered by retailers, tend to have a cost associated with them.

Recent information from the Environment Agency also suggests that when
compostable bags are not used for composting, they have a higher
environmental impact than conventional carrier bags.

Compostable products are tested and able to biodegrade within six months.
To be totally sure the products you are buying are compostable, look for the
following logos:

The logo to the left certifies that the material is home compostable, and the
logo to the right certifies that the material is suitable for industrial composting:

For more information on the environmental impacts of these types of bags, an
independent study ‘Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Oxo-degradable
Plastics Across Their Life-cycle’ can be found at [INSERT LINK]


It is the intention that the charge will apply to all those who sell goods in the
course of trade or business to customers in Wales.

Are there any stores where the charge would not apply?
No. We do not propose to exempt any particular seller of goods from the
charge. Rather, our approach is that certain types of bags, some of which are
used to carry certain types of goods will be exempt from the charge.

Will I need to pay for bags with my dot.com groceries?
Yes. Because the definition of single use carrier bag includes bags for the
purpose of enabling goods to be delivered to customer in Wales, single use
carrier bags used for dot.com groceries delivered to customers in Wales will
be subject to the charge.

If you don’t want to pay the charge, some retailers will allow you to request
bagless delivery. However, some retailers may not have the systems in place
to allow for bagless delivery. You will need to talk to the retailer to ask what
they propose to do to help you reduce the number of single use carrier bags
you will have to pay for.

What’s the public sector going to do? Don’t they give out bags too?
We will work with the public sector to ensure that single use carrier bags are
not given out unnecessarily. All Welsh Assembly Government departments
are advised that any promotional material purchased should be fairtrade,
environmental and sustainable and this includes bags.


How much will each bag cost?
7p is the level at which we have set the minimum charge.

We expect that this will be high enough to challenge consumer’s willingness
to pay but not so high as to have an adverse impact on specific groups such
as those on low incomes or on impulse purchases.

How much will this add to my shopping bills every week?
Remember, if you bring in your own bags then you will not be charged!

If you chose to pay for single use carrier bags, then you could be paying as
much as 98 pence a week on your grocery shop. This is based on the
assumption that the average household uses 14 single use carrier bags to
carry a weekly shop.

However, if you were to change to bags for life, after a one off cost of £1.40,
you could then avoid paying every week and save yourself £49.96 a year
once the charge comes into force. This is based on the assumption that a bag
for life would cost you 10 pence and that you would need 14 bags. It also
assumes that you go grocery shopping every week of the year (i.e. 52 weeks
a year).

How will those on low incomes cope with a charge?
We are aware that this policy may be seen as having an impact on lower
income groups who are less able to afford the move over to reuseable bags.
We are working closely with the retailers most associated with lower income
groups to deliver an accessible and consistent message prior to the
implementation of the charge in order to reduce the impact of this policy.

We are also working with community groups such as the Cilfrew Craf t Group
who have set up a social interest company to produce cotton bags from
unwanted material. These bags are being sold and used in the local

It is interesting to note that anecdotal evidence from retailers suggests that
older people have engaged with this policy and are the most likely area of
society to reuse their bags.

Should the Welsh Assembly Government be supporting Small and
Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the current economic climate?
We need to offer support to any businesses in Wales that manufacture, import
or distribute single use carrier bags to encourage them to produce more
environmentally friendly products. W here Welsh companies, manufactures of
or distributors of single use carrier bags, may be impacted by the introduction
of the charge, we will encourage them to contact FS4B where they can
discuss specific issues and solutions related to their business concerns.

What will the impact be on the manufacturing sector in Wales?
The Welsh Assembly Government Single Use Bag Study identified 23
companies in Wales that are associated with single use carrier bags. Nine of
these offer alternatives to single use carrier bags and eight provide wider
packaging services. The report considered that there would be some negative
impacts for these businesses in Wales as a result of the charge. However,
the report also highlighted that there are businesses in Wales dealing with
bags for life and other re-useable alternatives such as crates and these would
stand to benefit from the charge. There are clearly innovative business
opportunities and therefore, there are likely to be winners and losers as a
result of the charge.


We do not propose to exempt any particular types of shops or retailers from
the charge. Rather, our approach is that certain types of bags, some of which
are used to carry certain types of goods will be exempt from the charge.
These exemptions can be found in regulation 6 of the draft Regulations.

Why are there so many exemptions?
In drafting the exemptions to the charge, we have looked at common practice,
health and safety, existing regulations, responses to the first consultation,
discussions with our stakeholders and other government departments and
have tried to balance these with the desired aims of this policy. Each
exemption has a specific reason and part of the consultation process is to
make sure we have got this right and haven’t missed anything or put in too

How will I know if I need to pay for a bag?
It will be the responsibility of the seller to charge appropriately and you should
be asked if you require a bag and that you will need to pay the charge. If you
are given a bag and charged without being asked, you can give the bag back
and will not be required to pay the charge.

What if I put other purchases in the exempt bag?
If at the point of sale, you put other items in an exempt bag, that bag is no
longer exempt and you will be charged for your bag. This is because many of
the exemptions are designed to keep products separate for health and
hygiene reasons.

Will I have to pay for a bag for my prescription?
No, one of the proposed exemptions covers bags used solely to contain
prescription only medicines or appliances, or a medical product provided free
as part of other NHS services. Bags used solely to contain pharmacy
medicines (i.e. restricted over the counter medicines from a qualified
pharmacist or ‘P medicines’), are also exempt from the charge.


Record keeping and publication
All sellers will have to keep accurate records relating to charges for single use
carrier bags and some sellers will need to publish these records. This is to
ensure public accountability and transparency.

I have a small business and don’t give out many bags. Why do I have to
do the same as the big supermarkets?
We recognise the impact that the charge could have on small businesses who
give out very few bags each year. Therefore it is proposed that retailers, who
sell fewer than 100 bags in a year, or whose turnover is less than £68,000 per
year, be exempt from the requirement to publish an annual record. These
retailers are, however, still required to charge for single use carrier bags, keep
records accordingly and make them available on request.

The net proceeds of the charge is the amount raised from the charge (gross)
reduced by VAT, where appropriate and the seller’s reasonable costs.

What are reasonable costs?
These are things that the retailer has to pay for in order to comply with the
new Regulations and costs associated with communicating the charge to
customers and staff. These could be costs for the production of a record
keeping system, staff training and leaflets to customers, for example.

Where does the money raised from a charge go?
The draft Regulations will not specify where the proceeds of the charge
should go. However, we do expect that the proceeds should be passed on to
good causes here in Wales. We are aware that some retailers have existing
partnerships with good causes and we do not want to cut across any existing
arrangements. We will be working with retailers to establish a voluntary code
of practice on where the proceeds should go and we expect the majority of
retailers to sign-up to this agreement.


How will this proposed charge be enforced?
Local authorities in Wales will be responsible for enforcing the charge. It is
anticipated that the day to day role will be carried out by Trading Standards
Officers. They have existing relationships with both retailers and consumers
and the Welsh Assembly Government considers that local authorities’ Trading
Standards departments will be well placed to administer the proposed
regulations and enforce the charge.

Local authorities will only be able to exercise their function when they
reasonably believe that there has been a failure to comply with a requirement
of the regulations. We understand in Ireland, where a levy on plastic bags has
been in existence since 2002, enforcement has proved to be relatively easy

as the public have bought into the scheme and reported retailers’ non-

What kind of penalties will there be for not complying?
Breaches to these regulations will be punishable with civil sanctions. Civil
sanctions provide a wide, flexible and proportionate range of penalties and
are different to criminal proceedings.

Civil sanctions can take the form of fixed monetary penalties and discretionary
requirements such as variable monetary penalties or specifying steps to be
taken to ensure that non-compliance does not continue or recur.

How much will the monetary penalties be?
We propose that the levels of monetary penalties are linked to the size of
business, determined by the number of employees. The monetary penalties
range from £75 up to £250,000 depending on the breach. These are set out
in Schedule 3 and 4 of the draft Regulations.

What are the discretionary penalties?
The non-monetary discretionary requirements are not set out in the draft
Regulations, because they are intended to be totally flexible and at the
discretion of each administrator.

Where will the money from fines go?
Any monies raised through enforcement action will be paid in to the Welsh
Consolidated Fund. This means that the money from fines will go directly to
the Welsh Assembly Government and can be reallocated to public services
here in Wales.

The draft Regulations allow for appeals to be made to the General Regulatory
Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal. The First-tier Tribunal is a generic tribunal
which is empowered to deal with a wide range of issues which might form the
substance of appeals. These appeals will be heard in Wales.


Will the proposed charge lead to an increase in bin liners?
Since the introduction of a levy in the Republic of Ireland, it has been reported
that the number of plastic bin liners sold rose by 77%, although the basis for
this figure has not been explained. This is likely to happen here in Wales.

However, this was looked at by Friends of the Earth Scotland who calculated
that the 90% reduction in plastic check-out bags in the Republic of Ireland
equates to a reduction of one billion plastic bags, whilst the 77% increase in
kitchen bin bags at most equals an increase of 70 million of these bags. The
net effect is an overall reduction in plastic bag usage of 930 million bags.

There is less need in Wales to use single use carrier bags as bin liners as
more councils supply specialist bags, boxes and bins for different waste
streams and recyclate. Actually, there is no need to place waste in a plastic
bag before you place it in your kitchen bin. You can put rubbish directly in the
kitchen bin and then empty this into your wheelie bin or black bin bag,
obviously this will mean the kitchen bin will require cleaning more, but will
negate the need for an extra plastic bag.

When will the charge come into effect?
The earliest proposed implementation date is March 2011.

What is the Regulatory Impact Assessment?
This sets out the costs and benefits of the proposals to charge for single use
carrier bags. Four policy options were considered to evaluate whether the
introduction of a charge is the best approach to achieving the objective of a
lower, more sustainable level of consumption of single use carrier bags and
the reduction of wasteful use of resources.

The four options were:
           do nothing;
           introduction of a charge;
           introduction of a ban;
           extension of the existing voluntary agreement.

The preferred policy option was the introduction of a charge as this yields the
highest net benefit to society.


How can I get involved in this consultation?
You can submit a consultation response by completing a proforma online.
The best way to find this information is to look at the consultation section of
the website www.wales.gov.uk/consultations (Environment and Countryside).
Alternatively please call 02920 826230.

How will the momentum be maintained after this consultation?
An implementation group will be set up to explore several practical issues
regarding enforcement and record keeping and also to develop
communications to support the run up to introducing the charge.

How to respond?

By email


By visiting
www.wales.gov.uk/consultations (Environment and Countryside)

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Single Use Carrier Bag consultation
Local Environment Quality Branch
Department for Environment, Sustainability and Housing
Freepost Nat 8910
Welsh Assembly Government
Cathays Park
CF10 3BR

Any further questions?

Please contact the Local Environment Quality team on 02920 826230.