I am a frequent visitor to Wales and am used to the nominal charge for plastic bags. I never begrudge the extra 5p and assumed it went to charities engaged in green activities. I have also learned to keep a bag tucked into the pocket of my laptop case, as it is obviously better to re-use a bag.
So I was pleased that England appeared to be learning from Wales, and looked forward to the decline of the use of bags in England as well as an increase in the income of eco-friendly charities.
I was dismayed, however, to learn from that this transfer of funds was by no means automatic, or legally enforceable. My dismay became outrage when I read the weasel words from the supermarket giant Tesco, which seems unable to commit to passing all of the extra money it will earn from the new charge on. When I asked in store earlier today, the policy was described in different ways by different members of staff. The small print suggests the “proceeds” will go to good causes. That, of itself, is not good enough.
Until now the bags have been free of charge to customers, so they must already be accounted for in the company’s pricing structure. There can be no justification for any administration charge: if Tesco buys one billion bags and they use them all, it is a simple calculation: 1 billion bags X 5p per bag. They can then write one large cheque (or lots of smaller ones) to the total of £50 million pounds. If the next billion bags last longer, then the charities will not get their next £50m pounds quite as quickly. If the use of bags ends altogether, it will be tough on the charities but great for the environment – a price worth paying and a successful policy.
In order to make the point about what will probably be another moral failure by a supermarket (consistent with selling pole-dancing kits as toys, stuffing checkouts with chocolates, making multi-buys dearer than single buys, and so on) I thought I would test the market.
This morning was not the best, given the inclement weather and a corresponding decrease in customers, but dressed for the climate I stood on the approach to the Amersham Tesco offering used plastic bags for sale at 4p per bag. This is a 20 per cent reduction on the in-store price, and I committed to giving 100% to local charities.
Perhaps the fact that I was offering bags from Waitrose and M&S put some potential customers off. However, those shoppers I did speak to were of the unanimous opinion that every half-penny (remember them) of every 5p should go to charity.
Before I had sold all of my bags, I noticed that I had attracted the attention of the store staff and the large security men employed by the chain. I decided to make a tactical retreat.
The moral of this morning is plain: men and women must not forget to take their own bags to supermarkets. If we do, then we risk tempting the multi-million pound companies into making yet more profit. This is something they will find irresistible - and it will be our own fault.
The figures in this article were corrected on 06/10/15.
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