ENGLAND’S NEW bag tax could cause conflict and contamination, according to experts.
From today, October 5th, large retailers will have to charge customers 5p for single-use plastic bags. The policy, pushed through under the coalition government, should dramatically reduce the number of bags used.
Similar regulations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been well-received, with up to 80% fewer bags in circulation in some cases.
However, England’s rules are far more complicated thanks to a number of exemptions. Businesses with fewer than 250 employees are not part of the scheme, for example. Meanwhile, outlets selling uncooked meats and “food sold in containers not secure enough to prevent leakage during normal handling” are also exempt.
This could create confusion for both businesses and their customers, said Martin Kersh, executive director of the Foodservice Packaging Association.
“We are very concerned that members of the public bringing their own bags to a takeaway may be annoyed and possibly confrontational when asked to pay for a bag,” he said.
“The Food Standards Agency should issue really clear advice to the sector that under no circumstances should ready to consume takeaway food items be placed in a bag brought to the store by the consumer. The protection of public health is of paramount importance,” he added.
Reusing carrier bags for a diverse range of contents puts consumers at risk of bacterial contamination, with research revealing that some bugs can persist for up to 16 weeks on the bags.
“Bacteria can easily transfer from different types of reuseable bags to the hands and back again. What is more, using the same bag repeatedly for different purposes increases the risk of contaminating the bag with a whole host of harmful bacteria,” explained Professor Anthony Hilton, head of biological and biomedical science at Aston University.
According to the latest figures from Wrap, supermarkets in England gave away 7.64 billion bags to customers last year, up from 7.4 billion in 2013. This will all change with the charge, said the government.
“We can expect a significant reduction in England, possibly by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street,” said environment minister Rory Stewart.
Given the exemptions, others are not so sure. There is also confusion in relation to the government’s plans for so-called “super-biodegradable” bags.