Plastic Bags

I'm writing from Hong Kong, having travelled to China for the wedding of my friend and neighbouring MP Jeremy Hunt the Shadow Culture Secretary.

I'm impressed by how clean this city is.  No litter or chewing gum on the streets, and recycling bins on every corner.

Last month, the authorities in Hong Kong introduced a levy on plastic bags.  The effect has been dramatic, reducing the number of bags given to customers by 80 per cent.

Plastic bags are one of the most visible and damaging sources of waste.  They can take up to 1,000 years to break down, and often have a lethal impact on wildlife.  Some 8 per cent of the world's seal population has reportedly been harmed by plastic bags.

Last year, 10 billion bags were given away in the UK - around 400 per household.  And to manufacture this amount produced green-house gases equivalent to up to 100,000 extra cars on the road.

So should we follow Hong Kong's example and charge a levy on plastic bags?  I prefer the voluntary approach to taxes or regulation wherever possible.  Britain's seven biggest retailers have reduced plastic bag usage by nearly half in less than two years by voluntary agreement.  We need to do better, but I hope that the Government doesn't have to resort to a levy to achieve it.

Locally, Henfield has shown how the voluntary approach can work.  They based their approach on an initiative in Modbury in Devon, where a local activist persuaded all 43 local shops to substitute their plastic bags with reusable bags.

Since declaring the village plastic bag free in May last year, Henfield has prevented 750,000 single use plastic carrier bags from being given out to the public - a tremendous result.

On 12 September the world's first plastic bag free day takes place.  I hope that many more towns and villages will follow Henfield's example and swap their plastic bags for reusable ones.

Michelle Taylor