Businesses employing less than 250 full-time staff will avoid the 5p plastic bag tax that’s introduced in England today but at what cost to the environment?
While those in the retail world are buzzing about the new charge for plastic bags in large shops and supermarkets, SMEs are being told they’re exempt from the scheme that’s been introduced by the government to reduce litter and protect wildlife.
The changes, which have had a mixed response from retailers and shoppers, bring England in line with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland who have all already actioned the tax.
However, not everyone’s pleased that SMEs are avoiding passing the cost on to shoppers. Friends of the Earth are urging ministers to enforce the legislation on all businesses including SMEs. They claim surveys, carried out by them, show that convenience store owners are in favour of rolling out the scheme to include all retail outlets.
Friends of the Earth’s Senior Resources Campaigner, David Powell, said: “Charging for plastic bags has made a massive difference in the rest of the UK, so it’s about time England caught up. “The English charge is a good start, but it makes no sense that it only applies to big retailers.
“Shoppers will get mixed messages depending on where they shop. This could defeat the main point of the charge in the first place – to change the way people and stores think about over-using plastic bags. “In Wales 90% of businesses large and small have said their 5p charge hasn’t had an impact on trade, and three quarters of the Welsh population think the charge has been a good thing all round. “Reducing plastic bag use is a visible and important measure, but it’s hardly job done.
“From the oceans of pointless plastic wrapping our food and consumer goods, to flat-lining household recycling rates, England has a very long way to go if it’s serious about keeping waste out of our land, rivers and seas.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have stated that SMEs in England do have the opportunity to opt into the scheme. The Association of Convenience Stores which represents more than 33,500 local shops, have said only 8,000 were planning to do so – that’s just 24 per cent. They claim that, since being introduced in Wales, the 5p levy has been mainly positive for SMEs with fewer bags being given away, therefore reducing costs and increasing involvement with local charitable and community projects.
Why then are fewer SMEs planning opt out than to opt in? Some have expressed concern that the plastic bag charges would put additional pressure on them especially as businesses will be fined £100 if they don’t supply records of their carrier bag intake.
John Allan, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said:
“The FSB supports the introduction of charges for plastic bags. Many small retailers believe this measure could be good for business, good for the environment and good for their customers and community. However, we agree with the widely held industry view that imposing complex reporting requirements on smaller businesses is overly-burdensome and unnecessary.”