When it can be bothered to look, the London media tends to peer down its nose at the policies of the devolved administrations of the United Kingdom, attributing any success to the largesse of the Barnett formula rather than any innovation made possible by the devolution of power. So it is of little surprise that we haven’t heard much about the success of Wales’s new 5p levy on single use carrier bags or Northern Ireland’s plans to introduce a similar scheme in 2013. Aside from the Daily Mail, which has run a high profile campaign on the issue, efforts to ban plastic bags or dramatically reduce their use in the UK have gone largely unremarked.
That’s a shame because a plastic bag levy might be one of the few popular green taxes. When such charges were introduced in the Republic of Ireland in 2002, the use of plastic bags in retail outlets fell by 90 per cent. Other countries such as Denmark, Taiwan and South Africa also have levies, while in Rwanda and San Francisco disposable plastic bags have been banned altogether. Boris Johnson has even flirted with the idea, despite the fact that he appears to lack the power to levy plastic bag charges in London.
Supermarket chains have made some progress with voluntary measures to reduce plastic bag use, which is all to the good. But surely the time has surely come for English and Scottish policymakers to learn a devolution lesson or two from Wales and Northern Ireland and slap a charge on disposable carrier bags.