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UK Ministers Urge Supermarkets to Charge for Plastic Bags

by: The Evening Standard    13 October 2006

Consumers could be charged for plastic bags at supermarket and shop checkouts in a crackdown being urged by ministers.

Environment minister Ben Bradshaw warned Britain was "addicted" to the bags, which were becoming a major environmental nuisance.

Government sources said supermarkets and other big stores were being urged to follow the example of Swedish furniture company Ikea, which introduced charges earlier this year.

In trials, a 10p levy on plastic bags led to a 90 per cent drop in their use.

Mr Bradshaw has ruled out introducing a compulsory 'plastic bag tax', but yesterday summoned retailers to tell them to draw up a voluntary code that may include charges.

If they fail to act, the Government will consider new laws restricting the use of bags and setting targets for reductions.

"While all retailers are different, Ikea have dramatically reduced bag use this way," said an Environment Department source.

Other expected moves include lower prices for reusable carriers available at the checkout and targets for reductions in the numbers of bags handed out.

Mr Bradshaw said: "We use between eight billion and ten billion shopping bags a year.

"They are a major waste problem. They are very difficult to deal with and are a major visual problem in the environment - in rivers, trees and on verges.

"They have also become a serious threat to marine wildlife, which tends to die if it ingests these bags.

"We have got to do much more to reduce the number in circulation. Some retailers are already showing a courageous lead on this front and others must do the same."

As well as considering charges, Mr Bradshaw said stores should force customers to ask for bags rather than making them automatically available and introduce recycling bins for bags.

He said: "The retailers have agreed to work with us. They clearly recognise something needs to be done and have the will to do it.

"We are looking to them to sign up to an ambitious but realistic agreement.

Tesco is already encouraging its customers to switch to reusable bags - currently 10p each.

Discount firms such as Aldi and Lidl also charge for bags in the UK while B&Q has also been piloting similar schemes.

Ireland has levied a 15 cents (10p) charge on plastic bags since 2002, a policy said to have reduced usage by 90 per cent. In a separate move, the Government is considering a new climate change bill that would see regular targets put in place to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment Secretary David Miliband is drawing up plans for an independent system to monitor progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The move follows a campaign by Friends of the Earth - supported by the Tories and Liberal Democrats - for legislation.

A climate change bill is likely to be included in next month's Queen's Speech.

Last month, Mr Miliband said people "should be scared" by global warming and that more were recognising that "something funny is going on with the weather".

He has warned that carbon dioxide emissions are set to be 137 per cent higher in 2050 than in 2003.