It is six months since the Welsh Assembly introduced a 5p tax on each plastic bag given to customers in shops—and not everyone is happy with it. Plus, there are plans afoot to expand it to the whole of the UK. The TPA is organising a protest petition against the bag tax in central Cardiff on Saturday May 19th at 11.30am. Please let us know if you can come along and support us.
In the face of concerns from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and other retail business groups, the Welsh Assembly had to backtrack on part of its implementation, saying that shops with less than 10 members of staff would not have to keep records of the plastic bag charge. ‘The complexity, as well as the added time and cost, in administering this would add further pressure on small businesses,’ said the FSB’s Welsh representative. But their customers still have to pay the tax.
Bigger stores are also having to waste money and time recording the charges and accounting for how the proceeds of the bag tax are spent—the money collected can be donated to a charity of their choice. Businesses can be fined £5,000 if they do not comply with the levy.
Frequently, small businesses are paying the bag tax themselves rather than pass it on to their customers. Bob Rice, owner of Castle Welsh Crafts in the heart of Cardiff, a favourite destination for tourists from around the world, says it is ‘awkward’ and ‘an irritant’ when he has to ask customers to pay for their bags, especially after they may have spent £100 or more. So, he digs into his own pocket to pay it. ‘I don’t want tourists and visitors going away with any negative feeling about Wales,’ he says. ‘I know just how important packaging is in some cultures.’ His bags are biodegradable and made from recycled materials. Frequently, he says, his bags are ‘a little reminder of the country they visited which is totally different to a supermarket plastic bag.’
The problem for many retailers is that customers don’t always travel with shopping bags to hand. ‘Some members have reported specific problems,’ said Iestyn Davies of the FSB, ‘such as a noticeable decrease in impulse buying, which many retailers rely on as a key source of revenue.’ Why should shoppers be penalised for not carrying bags with them all the time—and how are they then supposed to carry their goods?
The environmental impact has also not been fully thought out as shoppers use heavier bags made out of non-recyclable materials, such as plastic coated fabric, to pick up their regular shopping. These bags will have a bigger environmental impact when they are consigned to landfill sites.
Unsurprisingly, six months after the tax was introduced, the use of plastic bags has plummeted in Wales by 90 per cent. People don’t like paying taxes! But this doesn’t give the full story of customer inconvenience, lost sales and costly extra bureaucracy. Champions of the bag tax—such as the Daily Mail—now want it introduced across the UK. A Europe-wide bag tax is also being considered by the EU.
Please let us know if you can come along and support us on our day of action against the bag tax in central Cardiff on Saturday May 19th at 11.30am (exact location details to come).