I thought it was a welcome move when Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London criticised the previous government for their ‘extremely cautious’ approach to tackling plastic bags and declared that ‘we will push for stronger measures’ (in his 2008 Mayoral election manifesto).
Once elected he reinforced this with news headlines reporting his intentions of a plastic bag free London by the Olympics.
However, the London Mayor is now, himself, failing to tackle what he called this ‘unnecessary scourge on our environment’.
The single use plastic bag is a potent symbol of needless waste and an unnecessary reflex at the till. Used for 20 minutes by shoppers and then dumped in landfill to decompose for centuries. Or blown away into the atmosphere or sea, eaten by one of 170 species of marine wildlife who mistake it for food.
We cannot afford another needless delay, but that is exactly what the Prime Minister gave us, when he issued an underwhelming warning to major supermarkets to reduce the number of bags they issue over the next year or else. His dithering is both staggering and sadly predictable, as few politicians are keen on standing up to the big supermarkets.
In contrast, the Welsh Assembly introduced a 5p charge on all single use plastic bags on the 1st October. It was ten years ago that the Republic of Ireland successfully reduced plastic bags by 90% with a 10p charge. If a similar reduction took place in London, it could cut 1.35 billion bags from London tills.
In 2007 the London Assembly’s Environment Committee recommended a national levy on all single use throwaway shopping bags.
Although the last government made provision for this in the 2008 Climate Change Act it was not implemented after ministers gave assurances that it would be tackled with a voluntary supermarket agreement.
This voluntary approach has clearly failed and as predicted, a third of a billion more plastic bags were handed out by retailers in 2010, than in the previous year.
Now is the time for the government to take action and to use its powers in the 2008 Climate Change Act and introduce a compulsory charge.
I will be urging Boris Johnson at the next Mayor’s Question Time on 12th October to press government to stop dithering and use their powers to bring us in line with Republic of Ireland where charges have radically reduced this unnecessary plastic bag menace.
Darren Johnson represents the Green Party on the London Assembly