Defra Report Republished

Not exactly an attention-grabbing headline! But there are some important principles at stake here. The Defra report on carrier bags, which was withdrawn in February for undisclosed "legal"reasons, has been quietly re-published, with no publicity.

It shows, that compared with a thin supermarket bag, to warrant the extra CO2 produced by its production, we have to use a cotton bag 173 times, a non woven fabric bag 14 times, and a plastic bag for life 5 times. This is on the basis that 40% of supermarket bags are re-used as bin liners, and are not re-used at all for shopping. However, there is a strong lobby for putting a tax on single trip carrier bags, as has happened in Ireland, and is about to happen in Wales.

Here are my thoughts on this-
  • Taxing bags raises little revenue and steals time from those who have to administer it. We should be thinking about how to create real new jobs, real goods and services, real wealth. A bag tax does not contribute a penny to our GDP.
  • In our household, and we are keen recyclers and composters, plastics bags are the only plastic packaging that we CAN re-use, as bin liners. Plastic bottles are recycled, but ALL other plastics -yoghurt pots, pizza trays, and vast quantities of plastic food containers, which cannot be recycled, have to go in the bin for landfill. It is idiocy to be taxing the ONLY plastic packaging which households can, and do, re-use.
  • Taxing carrier bags is Greenwash. It does not tackle real issues. It is contrary to the research and science. See Defra report SC030148 below.
  • The carbon impact of carrierbags is so tiny that that it hardly registers on a household CO2 emission scale. A car's impact in 1 day is the same as 7 years worth use of bags. Changing from supermarket bags to re-usable will hardly change that statistic.
  • In Ireland and Hong Kong where supermarket bags are taxed, they just use more bin liners. There is evidence that in Hong Kong it has put plastics consumption up, as they are using heavier gauge bags to dispose of waste.
  • In Ireland, supermarkets have aisles devoted to bin liners, it is good business.
  • Her Majesty's Government has spent taxpayers' money on a report. It has taken 5 years to publish. After that time and expenditure, they appear to be ignoring their own report. The Defra website states that plastic "bags for life" if used 4 times have a lower footprint than "single use" bags. It ignores the report's own statistic that single use carrierbags are used as bin liners, and are obviously used for other purposes, which makes "4 times" incorrect. Their comment is useful only in that it indicates that they minded to ignore the contents, so we can be warned that there is ignorance ahead.
  • In the great scheme of life, a bag tax is a fairly inconsequential thing to get steamed up about. The real concern is that politicians in Ireland and Wales, and increasingly likely in Scotland and England, are ignoring research and science and bowing to the leader writers and their followers, who may not have read and thought about the Defra and other reports and the science. If they ignore the research and facts about bags, what other irrational decisions are they making that affect you and me?
  • Finally, I might be less concerned if it were part of a coherent strategy on recycling. But we just don't appear to have a strategy. Recycling is patchy and different throughout England, leading to us not knowing what can and cannot be recycled. A recent trend is to sell rooted salad products in a plastic tray in compost. This creates further plastic waste, which cannot be recycled or re-used, and a huge amount of extra organic waste to dispose of. Most households do not have access to composting and do not have organic waste collection. So one more plastic tray and yet more organic material goes in the bin and to landfill. The answer is to tax carrierbags which are re-used, probably to line the waste bin for this extra disposal? Within this environment it is so irrational as to be madness!
  • "The carrierbag is an icon of waste" Maybe, but wrongly so. The real "icon of waste" will be the wasted effort if we have a bag tax and don't sort out the real issues of CO2 emissions and recycling.

Thanks for reading this, please let me have your comments.

Yours sincerely, Nick Varlow

Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags
Defra report SC030148 by Dr Chris Edwards and Jonna Meyhoff Fry.

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