Comment: Charges will change nation for the better

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It is not often that a so-called tax can be both popular and effective – but that surely is what Scotland’s plastic bag charge will prove to be.

Our current use of a mind-boggling 750 million plastic bags a year across the country is simply not sustainable. It is an extraordinary waste when millions of them end up in landfill and many more blowing about the streets and the countryside.

We use more carrier bags per head in Scotland than any other part of the UK, so change is well overdue.

We only need to look across the water to Ireland to see what the results are likely to be. A similar charge was introduced there 12 years ago and the way it has changed people’s behaviour has been nothing short of phenomenal. The number of plastic bags being used has fallen by about 90 per cent – and litter has reduced dramatically too.

It is easy to understand why. How many of us have bags for life at home but often forget to pack them when we go shopping? Many of us want to do the right thing – we believe in protecting the environment – but we haven’t got our act together properly.

The prospect of paying five pence a bag should be enough to focus minds and get many more of us organised.

There will also be a significant dividend for Scottish charities with stores expected to pass on the money they raise to good causes. If demand for carrier bags falls by the same amount as it has in Ireland, the five pence charges that will still be paid on the remaining ten per cent will add up to well over £3 million a year.

There are downsides, of course – aren’t there always? But these are pretty minimal compared with the benefits. There is extra red tape for businesses to deal with, but the Scottish Government has sensibly cut the demands on smaller traders, and it will not involve a lot of extra work.

It will be frustrating at times when we forget our bags and end up having to pay, say, 40 pence extra to take home our weekly shop. But we will get used to that.

The biggest losers will be the plastic bag makers, but at least the best of them will have their eyes on the soon-to-be growing market for bags for life.

Just as the smoking ban transformed the way we live, so the plastic bag charge is likely to have a remarkable effect on changing Scotland for the better.