UK steps up the war against pollution as environmental groups protest right-wing media’s “inaccurate reporting of climate crisis”

5 mn read

The British government has officially stepped up its fight against single-use plastics by confirming that the carrier bag charge will be extended to all retailers from April 2021. The charge was first introduced in 2015, allowing the government to successfully prevent billions of plastics bags being sold and ultimately ending up in the environment.

In a public consultation last year, the government proposed to double the charge and extend it to all retailers, with most respondents welcoming the move – which the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has now committed to implementing from April 2021. The current levy has led to a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets. The charge currently stands at 5p and applies to any retailer employing 250 people or more. The latest announcement from the government will see the extension reach all businesses in England supplying goods and will increase the minimum mandatory charge from 5p to 10p. The clampdown will hope to drive the current success even further and put the UK on course to eliminate avoidable plastic waste as per the 25 Year Environment Plan.

Photo: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

Environment Secretary George Eustice said, “We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on the precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head on. The UK is already a world-leader in this global effort, and our carrier bag charge has been hugely successful in taking billions of harmful plastic bags out of circulation but we want to go rougher by extending this to all retailers so we can continue to cut unnecessary waste and build back greener.”

“I hope our pioneering track record on single-use plastics will inspire many more countries to follow suit, so we can take on plastic waste together and implement lasting change.”

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The average person in England now buys just four bags a year from major supermarkets, because of the carrier bag charge, compare with 140 in 2014. However, these numbers may have been thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic. With more people ordering groceries online, where shopping has been delivered in plastic bags, the UK may see a rise in figures when the data becomes available. Despite this, ministers hope that, by extending the charge to all trading retailers, there will be a further reduction in bag usage from smaller shops. The increased charge is anticipated to incentivise the habitual use of sustainable and environmentally friendly long-lasting bags.

Climate activist, Verel Rodrigues told Eat News, “Increasing the levy on plastic bags is a step in the right direction. However, it would have been more beneficial if this were introduced earlier. Supermarkets should also focus on reducing the sale of bags for life, as sales of those have gone up. Since the method of placing a levy on items that increases plastic has worked very successfully, the government should also start placing a levy for companies that companies that produce single use plastic packaging. This would address the root cause of the pollution and shift the responsibility from consumers to producers.”

A recycling bin near Bournemouth beach, helping people to recycle their plastic. Photo: Nick Fewings/Unsplash

The British government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, released in 2018, includes plans to develop clean air, water, thriving plants and wildlife, reduce hazards within the environment as well as monitoring and reducing the human impact on climate change and waste production. The plastic bag tax had also raised more than £58 million for good causes by 2018, with 4.3p of every 5p payment donated. According to the government figures, £31.5 million was directed to charities, health, or environmental causes, with £21.4 million processed to local causes. A further £5.4 million went to “combined good causes.” Retailers are expected to keep a record of how many plastic bags they have distributed to consumers, and where the money has gone. However, the retailers make no money from the levy. Retailers may only keep charges that are “reasonably incurred completing transactions, communicating information and obtaining expert advice.” The cost of producing the bag is not considered a reasonable cost.

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Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society said, “It is encouraging to see the government take further steps in reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bags. Since the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge we have seen a more than 60% drop in the number of plastic bags on the UK’s beaches. It is so important we reduce our reliance on single-use items, and we move to a culture of reuse. This increased charge, and extending to all retailers, will help remind people of everyday, simple changes they can make to help the marine environment.”

The British government claims to have been working towards the 25 Year Environment Plan in several ways, including prohibiting the supply of plastic straws and cotton buds. A deposit return scheme was set up to encourage the recycling of single-use drinks containers and the UK is still leading the ban on microbeads. Incepted in 2018, the action saw the government ban the manufacturing of microbeads across the country. The beads can cause serious harm to marine life, but the ban has been praised as one of the toughest in world and will stop billions of these microbeads ending up in the ocean yearly.

Extinction Rebellion says the blockade is intended to highlight the papers’ failure to cover the climate crisis, and Murdoch’s influence in the British press. Photo: Extinction Rebellion UK/Facebook

Despite the measures, Extinction Rebellion – the global environmental movement – took to the streets of London and Liverpool last week to block the publications of New Corps Printworks from being delivered. In protest, the group demanded that News Corp titles like The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail must “free the truth.” The press release regarding the demonstration cited the group was “using disruption to expose the failure of these corporations to accurately report on the climate crisis.” The distribution of the papers was successfully halted, The Sun released emails to subscribers apologising for the delay, calling the rally “an attack on the free press.”

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Several similar actions are expected to be introduced in the coming years. A plastic packaging tax is projected to be introduced in the year 2022. The people who will be affected by this tax measure include UK producers and importers of plastic packaging, business customers of producers and importers, as well as consumers who buy plastic-packaged goods.

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Emily Lowes is an Eat News correspondent in the UK who has experience writing social, political, and economic features for a range of news outlets. She is an avid communicator, activist, and advocate for the freedom of information.

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Eat News is a Taiwanese digital media, analyzes current events and issues through column articles, videos, visual aid, and exclusive interviews.

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