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PEFC and AB Group Packaging Support use of paper bags, with new tax planned for plastic bags

Published on 22 August 2014

The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) and AB Group Packaging, are encouraging brand owners, retailers and consumers to use paper bags as an alternative to plastic, with the Government announcing that they are to introduce a 5p charge levy on all single-use plastic bags in England with effect from October 2015.

Together with AB Group Packaging, the UK & Ireland based packaging manufacturer, who have bought the issue to the fore, PEFC is supporting the increased use of paper bags, as a viable alternative to plastic. Both PEFC and AB Group Packaging realise this could represent a great opportunity for the paper and packaging industry to push the usage of fibre-based packaging, and in turn give the industry a plus in terms of its environmental sustainability.

The fibre-based packaging material used to produce the paper bags can also be sourced from sustainably managed forests, and if sourced from a PEFC certified forest can also respond to the many environmental concerns that global brands and companies are looking to address with regards to the use of fibre in their packaging, verifying that it comes from a certified sustainable source.

The use of paper bags, particularly from renewable, recyclable sources, is a better alternative for the environment, as they are biodegradable, compostable and recyclable. The majority of plastic bags are still being made from Polyethylene (PE), ending up in landfill and can take hundreds of years to break down.

Commenting on the proposed tax on plastic bags, and the intention to increase the usage of paper bags, AB Group Managing Director, Dermot Brady, stated, “With the announcement of this tax for plastic bags, this marks an excellent opportunity for the paper and packaging industry to increase the use of paper-based bags, which are both sustainable, renewable, and present an excellent environmental plus over plastic.”

AB Group Packaging is one of the UK & Ireland’s biggest manufacturers of flexible packaging, producing, paper and polythene bags and food packaging products. AB Group can also produce 100% recycled products, and is dual certified to both PEFC and Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Chain of Custody certification standards.

There is already a similar 5p charge on single-use bags in Wales and Northern Ireland, and Scotland will be introducing a similar in 2014. However, according to the Government Statement on the introduction of the new charge, small and medium-sized (SME) businesses will be exempt, as the Government has stated that this will reduce the administrative burden on start-up and growing businesses, at a time when it is supporting new growth in the economy.

A further reason for encouraging the use of paper-based bags is that the introduction of the new tax could also represent a massive headache for retailers and brand owners. It is understood that the new 5p tax would have to be accounted for separately, with the VAT also having to be accounted for as a separate entity, resulting in a massive spend on altering their accounting and IT systems.

The introduction of the new levy would also significantly reduce the 7 billion carrier bags that are handed out by Britain’s supermarkets every year. In Wales the levy has already shown significant success, reducing the number of carrier bags given out by the country by some 81%, according to Government figures.

Background on the tax

Since 2006, a raft of changes have been introduced to reduce the huge amount of plastic bags that are used in the UK, which has included marketing ‘Bags for Life’ more clearly. This has also involved reducing the amount of new plastic and raising the level of recycled content used to make bags. With the introduction of these implementations, carrier bag distribution was reduced by some 32% between 2006 and 2012. However, between 2010 and 2012, single-use carrier bag distribution started to creep back up in England by around 12%.

The Government has stated that the plastic bag charge is, ‘a targeted, proportionate approach to the problem of carrier bag distribution and littering’. It has indicated, ‘It will therefore continue to focus on plastic bags and not on paper bags’. According to the Government information, paper bags make up less than 0.1% of carrier bags distributed in the UK by the seven major supermarket retailers.

UK charges

Since 2011 in Wales, there has been a minimum charge of 5p on single-use carrier bags. This includes paper bags and applies to all organisations (including SMEs). The Welsh government has a voluntary agreement with organisations that the proceeds of the charge are given to good causes.

Whilst in Northern Ireland, since 2013, there has been a minimum charge of 5p on single-use carrier bags. This applies to single-use bags made from plastic, paper, plant-based materials or natural starch. However, a planned increase to 10p in April 2014 was cancelled, due to the success of the charge. The proceeds from the charge go back to the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, with around £1 million being allocated so far to provide funding for communities and organisations to develop local environmental projects.

In 2002, Ireland introduced a levy of 15 cents (13p) on plastic bags, which rose to 22 cents (18p) in 2007. The proceeds from the levy go back to the Irish government and are put into an Environment Fund. It has been estimated that usage of plastic bags in Ireland has fallen by over 90% since the introduction of the levy.