Government attempts to undermine bag charge

We celebrated in October when the Government announcement a 5p charge on single-use plastic bags will be introduced in 2015. We’ve had some fantastic support for this campaign.  However, the Government has recently released some small print that has the potential to dramatically reduce the environmental benefits from the scheme.

  • Paper and biodegradable bags will be exempt from the charge (but they will still be litter and impact our beaches and vulnerable marine life)
  • Small businesses, employing less than 250 people are exempt from the charge.  This could include franchises like Spar shops.

We believe these exemptions have the potential to undermine the effectiveness of the bag charge.  The Government is currently asking for your opinion on these undesirable measures. You can let them know at [email protected] .  We’ve drafted a suggested support text that you can copy, paste amend and send as you wish.  Or simply scroll down to see our suggested response.

Surfers Against Sewage are calling on the Government to:

  • Include paper and biodegradable bags in the charge as they also have an impact on the environment. Exempting these materials will make the scheme confusing and will undermine the effects to reduce litter in our seas, on our beaches and throughout the countryside.
  • Include small businesses in the scheme, so they can receive the economic and community benefits the larger stores will enjoy.

The consultation closes on 20 December, so please join us and contact the Government today!

Send to [email protected] :

Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


Nobel House

17 Smith Square




Dear Secretary of State for Environment,

I would like to congratulate your department for taking the responsible step on committing to introduce a bag charge in 2015.  However, I strongly believe that by allowing biodegradable and paper bags to be exempt from the scheme the bag charge will be dramatically undermined, therefore I ask that the following points are considered as part of the Call for Evidence. 

Making biodegradable and paper bags exempt from the scheme will completely undermine the scheme’s ability to reduce both the consumption of bags and bags littered.  The public and retailors want consistency with this scheme. Exempting certain types of bag and the outlets the charge is applied in will add significant confusion to what should be a simple and easy to adopt scheme. 

There is also the obvious risk that the larger retailers will simply continue to hand out free single use paper or biodegradable bags.  These bags will continue to be littered and do nothing to reduce resources used or waste associated with single use bags.  A biodegradable bag doesn’t exist and paper bags have significant environmental impacts (associated with the increased carbon emissions for transporting and their fragility).  

Another major source of potential confusion is the proposal to exclude retailers with less than 250 employees. Small businesses that are part of a franchise system, such as Subway or Spar, will have some stores charging for bags and others not. The inconsistency creates a burden for retailors and confusion for consumers with the potential for some businesses being avoided in favour of those that do not charge.

Your Call for Evidence is cumbersome and convoluted and designed in such a manner that it restricts public engagement and excludes the valid concerns I’ve listed.  It is therefore vital that you recognise the evidence I’ve provided as the scheme your department is suggesting will result in great inconsistency nationally and across the UK. This will result in confusion amongst consumers, burden for retailers and most of all a missed opportunity to better protect our environment. 

There are already successful examples of bag charging schemes in the UK.  England’s scheme should look at adopting these simple, working solutions without these adding the confusing caveats listed above.  

Yours sincerely