Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scotland's plastic bag charge, one year later

Yesterday marked Scotland's first anniversary of requiring retailers to charge customers five pence (5p) for plastic bags. And generally speaking, the news is outstanding.

Over the past year, the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers in has plummeted by approximately 80%. These statistics come from the main supermarket stores, such as Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, and so on, though many other retailers have also slashed their plastic bag use. At present, no good figures are available from retailers other than the grocery chains.

plastic bag / carrier bag / single-use bag
This 80% reduction indicates a tremendous drop, and it's a huge victory against pollution and carbon emissions. Eliminating roughly 650 million bags per year is amazing, quite frankly. (Actually, once you calculate the amount of plastic in reusable bags and so-called "bags for life," the reduction in plastic is actually closer to 500 million. Still, that's fantastic.) Scotland has followed the lead of Northern Ireland and Wales, which both showed a similar drop in plastic bag usage. England, for its part, began its own 5p charge earlier this month, and we can assume it'll have similar statistics.

While it's an accomplishment to be cheered, not everything is perfect. As I noted last year, the retailers saw an 80% drop within the first month of the new charge. After folks adjusted in the first month, however, no further percentage reduction has been achieved. Now, to be reasonable, we all might occasionally forget our reusable bags and need a plastic bag or two in a pinch. But that doesn't account for anywhere near the 150 million plastic bags given out by the grocery stores this past year.

In other words, there remains a portion of the population undeterred by the 5p charge and who see no reason to change. These are hardcore users of the bags, and changing their behavior will be the key to future reductions.

So, while the 80% reduction is terrific, there's room to improve.

With England at last on board, the U.K. finally has started to catch up with the rest of Europe.

reusable shopping bags from Waitrose
Reusable shopping bags from Waitrose, a major British grocery chain.

1 comment: