Scottish government confirms October introduction of single-use carrier bag charge

Out-Law News | 30 May 2014 | 9:50 am | 1 min. read

Scottish retailers will charge a minimum of 5p for all single-use carrier bags, including plastic bags, on 20 October this year, the Scottish government has confirmed.

The charge will apply to thin plastic, paper and natural starch bags that are not intended for multiple re-use and fall within certain dimensions set out in newly-approved regulations. Money raised as a result of the charge will be donated to "good causes" including environmental projects, according to the Scottish government.

"This is landmark legislation that underlines Scotland is serious about tackling litter, reducing waste and creating a cleaner, greener environment for everyone to enjoy," said Richard Lochhead, the Scottish environment secretary.

"The vast number of single use carrier bags given out in Scotland is symbolic of our throwaway society. By requiring retailers to charge at least 5p per bag we want shoppers to stop and think about what we discard. Instead of taking another bag that could end up as litter, we want people to re-use their bags or consider alternatives like bags for life," he said.

The introduction of charging for carrier bags in Scotland will leave England as the only British jurisdiction where a charge is not in operation. Similar laws were introduced in Wales in 2010, while Northern Ireland introduced a charge last year.

"In each case the tax has raised substantial revenue and plastic bag use has been dramatically reduced," said retail property expert Andrea McIlroy-Rose of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "It is very difficult for retailers or customers to argue against a tax which helps the environment."

"It was originally argued that a mandatory charge would put additional pressure on retailers in very difficult trading conditions. However, as the administration costs of these schemes seem to average out at less than 5% of the revenue raised and there is no real evidence to show that the charge discourages customers, it was always likely that this initiative would spread to Scotland – and then, if similarly successful, be introduced in England as there is no reason why this part of the UK should not be subject to the same charge," she said.

Scotland currently uses 750 million such bags every year; the highest number per person in the UK, according to the Scottish government.