Time is right for action on free bags

For immediate release 30 September 2011

Greens have argued that Scotland should follow Wales and phase out free single-use bags, ahead of the Welsh law coming into force on Saturday 1st October. The party has lodged a motion* in the Scottish Parliament urging the Scottish Government to take inspiration from the experience of the Welsh Government when they launch a consultation on bags later this year.

The latest figures from the Government's waste agency WRAP show that voluntary measures by large retailers have failed to reduce single-use bag numbers in Scotland, with around 590 million bags used in 2010.

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

"We've been having a debate on ways to tackle bag waste for many years but I think the most recent figures show that now the time is right for clearer action by the Scottish Government. I'm very interested in the broad approach taken by the Welsh Government to charge a few pennies for all types of single-use bags, not just plastic ones, and the effect this will have to encourage far more people to reuse their shopping bags.

"Although bags do not produce a great volume of waste they are a very visible form of litter and there's a high chance of them ending up in rivers and seas, where they are a real hazard to marine and bird life. The Minister has said that he wants to phase out free bags in supermarkets and I strongly support this ambition."

* The motion in Alison Johnstone's name read:

"That the Parliament welcomes the decision by the Welsh Assembly Government to introduce a levy on single-use bags; considers that the 5p charge in Wales, to be introduced from 1 October 2011, will encourage a reduction in excessive use of plastic bags; congratulates Wales for being the first UK nation to introduce such a charge; notes that, in Ireland, where a charge for bags was introduced nine years ago, the government has reported that the number of bags used annually has fallen from 328 per person to 26; welcomes the news that some large retailers in Wales will be donating the money from the levy to charities; notes that, in 2009, the number of plastic bags handed to customers by supermarkets in Scotland almost halved in the three years following stores signing up to a voluntary government-organised scheme but that, since then, there has been a reported rise in the prevalence of use and that, in 2010, 590 million bags were used in Scotland; regrets that this is equivalent to 9.4 bags per person per month and considers that more must be done to reduce what it sees as disappointing figures; understands that bags are often used for only around 20 minutes, can take up to 1,000 years to degrade, can litter the landscape and threaten marine and bird life; further understands that their production and use can deplete natural resources and pollute the environment; agrees with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment that "plastic bags are a scourge on our environment and a blight on our streets, our countryside and our seas"; welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government that, in autumn 2011, it will begin a public consultation on options to reduce plastic bag use, and calls on the Scottish Government to take inspiration from the Welsh decision in order to make real progress towards a zero-waste society."