As I write this, the Department of the Environment has just announced a marked reduction in the use of plastic carrier bags in Northern Ireland after the introduction of a 5p levy last year.
Indeed, the first published set of statistics show the number of single-use plastic bags dispensed by retailers is down 71.8 per cent, from 300 million to 84.5 million, while an equally impressive £4.17 million has been raised to support local environmental projects.
It’s for that reason the NFRN has long supported levies on plastic bags. Charging for them is not just beneficial to the environment, as the Northern Ireland figures show, it is good for retail businesses as some independents are struggling with the cost of supplying customers with bags and it is good for local projects and charities too.
So we are pleased that levies have been introduced in the Republic of Ireland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland, and that Scotland is to follow suit next month.
But we are puzzled that in England our members will be excluded when the single-use carrier bag levy is implemented next year. Only supermarkets and large stores will be required to charge 5p per single use bag from October 2015.
NFRN members are responsible retailers who see the plastic bag tax as a way they can help the environment, while giving something back to the communities.
That’s why we have written to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and met with Defra minister Dan Rogerson to discuss the exclusion, express our concerns and call on the government to think again. And we will continue to press for a system that is simple to administer and that applies to retailers whatever their size.
We want the government to act and ensure that all retailers – big and small –are included, but if they don’t we will be recommending that all our English members introduce a charge anyway, keep records of their sales and contribute the proceeds to local charities.
By doing so, everyone will win, as customers will not be confused as to where and when they will have to pay for a plastic bag, stores will save money and local stores can continue to demonstrate their importance at the heart of communities by donating to local worthy causes.