In Scotland we use more than 800 million new single-use carrier bags every year – more per head than anywhere else in the UK. Many of these bags end up in our communities and streets, or on our beaches.
This causes problems with litter, which is a blight on our natural environment and costs a fortune to clean up. It also affects our wildlife, with marine litter killing more than a million seabirds a year.
This is something we can and must change.
And it is why the Scottish Government has brought in landmark legislation that requires retailers to charge 5p for single-use carrier bags, starting next month.
From October 20, it will cost at least 5p for each single-use carrier bag given out to shoppers in Scotland.
This milestone legislation underlines that Scotland is serious about tackling litter, reducing waste and creating a cleaner, greener environment for everyone to enjoy.
The charge applies to all types of single-use carrier bags, whether they are made from plastic, paper or biodegradable material – although there are a limited number of exemptions, for example for unpackaged food such as uncooked meat, poultry and fish.
And the charge doesn’t just apply at supermarkets and grocers; it applies everywhere from supermarkets and corner shops to takeaways and clothes shops.
The whole purpose of introducing this charge is to attach a value to bags which many people just see as disposable at the moment.
It is a modest charge of 5p, but I hope it will make people think about whether they really need another bag that could end up as litter. Instead I’d like to see people getting into the habit of reusing bags.
Last week I launched an awareness campaign ahead of the charge coming in. You may have seen the campaign in newspapers or heard about it on the radio.
Its message is that if we all remember our bags when we head out to the high street, the supermarket or the corner shop, it’s better for the environment and saves money.
Bringing your own bags means there’s no charge. “Bags for life” are available at very low cost at many supermarkets. You just need to remember to take them to the shops instead of leaving them in the house or the back of the car!
Of course, some retailers already charge for bags as part of their own environmental impact plans and there are plans to introduce a minimum 5p charge in England next year.
In Northern Ireland and Wales, where charges have already been introduced, carrier bag use has been reduced by up to 80 per cent.
That is a massive reduction and I am very confident we will see the same here in Scotland.
Scotland’s bag charge will see funds donated to good causes by retailers including environmental charities.
It is hugely heartening to see so many have already signed up to the Carrier Bag Commitment on donations.
Some companies have already announced the good causes they will be supporting and I’d encourage all retailers in Scotland to get involved.
• Richard Lochhead is Cabinet Secretary for the Environment