New plastic bag charge has riled England

plastic bag in tree
CC BY 2.0 Kate Ter Haar

The English now have to pay 5p per plastic shopping bag. Many are not pleased.

England has just introduced a plastic bag fee of 5p per bag. This is nothing new for other places such as Wales, Scotland, and Canada. Most stores here in Ontario, where I live, have been charging 5 cents per bag for several years now.

The English, however, have had strong mixed reactions to the new charge. The Daily Mail predicts that a “bagpocalypse” looms, and wonders how storeowners will cope with the “complicated exemptions” that are sure to “lead to disputes.” But as Guardian writer Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett points out, the exemptions aren’t all that complicated to understand:

“Companies with under 250 employees need not charge and some items, such as uncooked chicken, flowers, live goldfish, axeheads and prescription medication (all of which could combine to make quite the Saturday night) are exempt from the charging, except whenever these goods are purchased with non-exempt items.”

OK, so the exemptions do sound a bit confusing, but I’m sure the English storeowners will figure them out. It's simpler, after all, to figure out those rules than how to cope with the estimated 90 percent of sea birds in the United Kingdom that have plastic in their guts.

The point is, people need to start thinking about their plastic ‘footprint’ and if charging them for it is what’s needed, then so be it. Unfortunately, a small 5p or 5-cent charge is hardly enough to draw attention to the matter. If it were up to me, I’d charge $5 per bag because that’s when people would really start paying attention. Better yet, I’d banish plastic bags from stores altogether. That's what California has done with its outright ban on single-use plastic bags.

The fact is, you can easily survive without plastic shopping bags. There is no need to panic. It just requires a bit more forethought. I haven’t accepted a plastic shopping bag in months. While it has led to a few awkward situations in which I’m juggling an infant, a wallet, a four-liter bag of milk, a baguette, a bunch of bananas, and a container of peanut butter, all while trying to herd a three-year-old and six-year-old through a busy parking lot, it's not a big deal. I usually remember to bring reusable supplies the next time!

On most occasions, I run through a mental checklist of all the things I take to the store: grocery list, reusable cloth produce bags, stainless steel containers (for filling at the deli and butcher shop), and a sturdy plastic bin for carrying everything. I keep it all piled inside the bin on my back porch, ready to go whenever I am. For those unexpected grocery stops, I have an empty reusable bag and a few Mason jars stored in the car at all times.

There’s no need for England to panic. It’s a long overdue step in the right direction.

Tags: England | Plastic Bags | Plastics | Shopping | Waste

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