By Will Date
The government will review the reusability of carrier bags, as part of its ongoing work to assess the suitability of imposing a 5p charge for single-use bags in England, environment secretary Owen Paterson has said.
The comments from the minister came in response to a letter from the British Plastics Federation calling for the government to assess studies over the reuse of carrier bags which have recently been compiled in Germany, and are due to be published later this month.
Data presented by the BPF to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggested that a majority of plastic carriers are used up to three times on average.
The group claims that the evidence should lead the government to reconsider its plans to force retailers to charge for plastic carriers.
The BPF criticised the government for failing to mention reuse of carrier bags as a factor to be considered as part of its call for evidence into the measure, launched in November, and described plans to exempt biodegradable bags from a charge as wholly inappropriate.
Writing last month, BPF director general Peter Davis, said: The title of your consultation document and text wrongly seems to assume that a plastic carrier bag is used only once and misleads since we can prove that the vast majority of such bags are re-used and should be exempt from the charge.
‘We will be carrying out a full impact assessment of the costs and benefits of the charge in due course and the reuse of plastic bags will be one of the factors considered within that work.’
Owen Paterson, environment secretary
He continued: It is surprising that the Call for Evidence barely mentions re-use, which I understood the government was generally in support of as a means of conserving resources. An Impact Assessment of your proposals will be obliged to take full account of the re-use benefits which include saving fossil fuels.
In his response, sent last week, Mr Paterson said: We are currently analysing the responses to our Call for Evidence on plastic bags. We will be carrying out a full impact assessment of the costs and benefits of the charge in due course and the reuse of plastic bags will be one of the factors considered within that work.
The minister also acknowledged the concerns raised by members of the recycling industry over the proposal to exempt biodegradable carrier bags from the charge, and reiterated the governments assertion that it is keen to develop a more sustainable biodegradable bag and separation technologies.
He added: This work has the potential to lead to new opportunities and growth for UK businesses. Any biodegradable bags exempted from the charge would have to meet a defined standard that we will work closely with industry and other experts on.
Mr Patersons comments come mid way through an inquiry into the plans by the Environmental Audit Committee, which is made up of MPs from each of the main political parties (see letsrecycle.com story).
The Committee held an evidence hearing last during which MPs were told that an exemption for biodegradable bags would inhibit the recycling of plastic films.
Among those giving evidence at the hearing was Jessica Baker, managing director of plastic film processor Chase Plastics, who told the inquiry that a surge in the amount of biodegradable plastic in the waste stream that would be created by an exemption would damage confidence in recycled film.
She said: Customers buy recycled plastic because it is cheaper than virgin polymers and fit for their applications. Many of those applications are for long life products and I am sure that it will not take long before any doubt about the ability of our reprocessed products to remain suitable for the market will disappear.