London may tax or ban plastic shopping bags

London, November 13:

London could become the world’s largest plastic bag-free city within 18 months, if local authorities move today to ban them or impose a hefty tax on the hundreds of millions that are given away each year by shops.

Chief executives of the 33 London councils are expected to recommend action at a meeting today after being given overwhelming public support. Over 90 per cent of people and organisations asked by London Councils, the body which represents the city authorities, said they wanted a complete ban, or would support a 10-15 pence levy on every bag.

Because the treasury is considered highly unlikely to support any tax, the authorities are expected to press for a law forcing a ban on plastic shopping bags at today’s meeting. “The mood is definitely to do something. The councils do not have the power to ban them by themselves, so itwould require a private bill in parliament,” said a spokesman for London Co-uncils yesterday. The nati-onal ban on smoking in pu-blic places followed a similar initiative by the councils in the local authorities bill three years ago.

Traders in 80 mainly small towns round Britain have either introduced a voluntary ban or are considering one as a way to reduce landfill. More than 17 billion plastic bags are handed out by supermarkets a year, causing nearly 60,000 tonnes of plastic to go to landfill sites. The government has resisted a national ban or a levy, preferring a voluntary agreement with supermarkets to reduce the ‘overall environmental impact’ of carrier bags by 25 per cent by the end of 2008.

A statement on the Department for Environment’s website states, “There is no clear evidence that such a tax would be beneficial on either broad environmental or litter grounds. This is because people would be encouraged to use bags made from other materials or alternative forms of packaging, which may be equally or more damaging to the environment.”

The supermarket Sainsbury’s yesterday said the use of free carrier bags fell by 10 per cent in the last six months, while the use of reusable bags rose by nearly 50 per cent. David Tyson, secretary of the UK Packaging and Industrial Films Association, said, “Where a tax has been levied, as in Ireland, it increases the plastic in use. The humble plastic bag is the most reused piece of packaging.”

Brighton and Hove council in southern England last week became the largest authority in Britain to offer support for a voluntary ban. Cities around the world, from San Franciso to Dakha in Bangl-adesh, have vastly reduced the number of bags being issued by imposing taxes.