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UK Environmental news

Wednesday 12th August 2009
Welsh Assembly to Tax Plastic Bags

Throwaway plastic items have come to represent one of the greatest failings in modern society. So-called "white" pollution is a striking reminder of the recycling problems facing us today. You only need to travel to the outskirts of any major city in the developing world to see mountains of plastic bags and bottles churned up with other waste in the mud. Despite this, it is estimated that up to 300 million plastic bags are still distributed across the world every day.

The situation across the developed world has seen some recent improvements with the introduction of biodegradable bags and an increase in consumer awareness, leading to shoppers taking their own reusable canvas bags. However, a huge number of standard plastic bags are still distributed throughout the UK every day.

With this in mind, the Welsh Assembly has reportedly decided to ban the free distribution of plastic bags. They propose a 15p charge for each bag to encourage consumers to “embrace the environmental message”. Any funds raised would be diverted in to local environmental projects.

Evidence from across the globe has found that such measures dramatically reduce plastic bag consumption. Ireland levied a €0.15 tax on plastic bags back in 2002 and saw a 90 percent reduction in bag use in just a few short months. Both Dhaka and Mumbai introduced total bans on plastic bag distribution in 2002 and 2001 respectively and as a result, litter and pollution in those cities have greatly reduced. Local people turned to recycled paper bags.

Critics of the scheme point to a dramatic increase in refuse bag purchases in Ireland to compensate for the lack of freely available plastic bags. Refuse bags are generally thicker and degrade slower than shopping bags. They also point out that reliance on paper bags is more costly for the environment in the long term as they consume more energy to produce and release greenhouse gasses during degradation.

Others point out that while plastic bags are indeed a significant problem, they only account for a small portion of global waste and that time might better be spent going after the big polluters.

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