Her Majesty the Queen today (June 4) outlined the governments commitment to introducing a 5p charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in England, likely to come into effect in 2015.
In her final Speech during the Conservative/Lib Dem coalitions current term of office, the Queen said the government would introduce the charge in October 2015 to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags to help protect the environment.
However, although the plans for the levy will be included in the 2014/15 parliament, few additional details on the legislation such as how exemptions for small and medium businesses and for biodegradable bags will work have yet to materialise.
In February, a parliamentary committee described the governments bag levy plans as a complete mess due to the confusion caused by proposed exemptions (see letsrecycle.com story).
The governments notes accompanying the speech state that small and medium-sized businesses will be exempt from the charge to avoid imposing burdens on start-up and growing businesses in England at a time when the government is supporting new growth in our economy.
Under the legislation, retailers will be expected to donate proceeds of the charge to good causes and the government is looking to develop a voluntary agreement with retailers to cover this. Organisations will also be required to publish data showing customers what proceeds are being used for.
Elsewhere, the notes state that the exemption for biodegradable bags is a challenge to UK industry to produce a genuinely biodegradable bag that meets defined criteria and can be identified in separated waste recovery and treatment operations, adding that we are not aware that such a plastic bag currently exists.
But, the government says that phase one of research into finding a solution to developing biodegradable bags and separation techniques has been completed, and that the project will feed into our understanding of exemptions for biodegradable bags.
Opponents of the exemption for biodegradable bags, primarily from the plastic film reprocessing sector, say that it is not possible to recycle degradable bags alongside standard plastic carriers due to the difference in the structure of the material and promoting their use could undermine the recycling of plastic films.
According to the Queens Speech 2014 notes, more than seven million single-use plastic carrier bags were given out in 2012 by supermarkets, or 133 per person, and the figure has been rising since 2010.
These notes also highlight the evidence from the impact of similar charges in Northern Ireland and Wales, with the government arguing that the charge is enough to significantly reduce the number [of plastic bags] that people use and reduce the damage they cause.