My local Tesco supermarket in their wisdom no longer provide plastic carrier bag recycling facilities. Facilities were removed 'since the 5 pence bag charge was introduced'. Following the example of many other countries, on 5th October 2015, England introduced 5 pence charges for single-use plastic carrier bags. Now maybe I should have taken more notice when the the charge was introduced but I assumed that the charge would go into 'plastic carrier bag' recycling facilities considering that only retailers with more than 250 employees are obliged to charge for bags. This leaves tens of thousands of shops – many in inner city areas – that still do not charge for carrier bags.
Instead the Government 'requires' these chains to use the money collected for good causes selected by them. Really? No audit, no checks, nothing and then they choose the causes to support. Asda's published figures for Wales is here.
Why was this not the opportunity to extend the collection of carrier bags especially local council provision? Not everyone goes regularly to the big supermarkets. Some residents of East Sussex appear to be able to recycle via recycling collection but it would appear that councils some like Powys who did collect at one stage did so withdrew the service. No other councils appear to have any policy and do not even provide facilities at recycling centers. Additionally, many people are unaware, as I was for many years, of what can be recycled with carrier bags since they are all made of 'plastic film'. Some money toward educating the public and obliging packaging companies to label those materials as recyclable would be also be a good use for our 5 pence worth.
The introduction of restrictions such as out right bans and charges around the world are the result of the realisation of the polluting effect of used carrier bags. For many third world countries this is a serious issue – just watch any youtube video of poorer neighbourhoods and slums and see how many used bags are strewn around. They pose a serious risk to water life especially at sea and can take centuries to decompose and then only into non-natural substances. Yet, they are recyclable into many other useful products – youtube has countless examples.
There is not doubt that the introduction of a charge has made a difference – the figures from Wales show that plastic bag usage dropped by around three-quarters after the introduction of a 5p charge in 2011. The fact is that there are still millions of bags being used and they require recycling - why are we not using the money to do just that? My dilemma of attempting to do the right thing is that I am stuck with a black bin liner packed with carrier bags that I need to get rid of. There is an estimated 40 bags littering up each household in England – that is a lot of bags that will end up in the bin.
The big supermarkets will use their good causes to blow their own trumpets. Slowly I expect they will follow Tesco's lead and quietly drop collecting the very bags they charge for after all it is a cost that they could do without. Currently, unlike Tesco that apparently leaves it to the individual superstores to decide whether the plastic carrier bag recycling is to be provided, Sainsburys and Morrisons supermarket chains that appear to have a corporate policy, Asda does not appear to have any information on their website.
Not everyone buys into the reasoning that this drop is bag use is making things better. See the Telegraph’s “Plastic bag charge: the unintended consequences of the 5p deterrent” for an some insight.
Not sure we can get government to change quickly but I am sure that if customers pressurised their favourite supermarkets to not only provide recycling facilities but also to ensure that the good causes they 'choose' to support are those involved in the recycling education, cleanup projects and the actual recycling of plastic carrier bags and other film. Use hash tag #5p2recycle on Facebook and Twitter to share and show your support for the idea. Let's do this.