Government of Wales proposes fee on reusable shopping bags

Claiming success with its 5p (7.5 cent CDN) charge on single use shopping bags, the Welsh Government is now proposing to include in legislation a provision for a similar charge on reusable shopping bags. The reason: the Government is concerned that people are buying reusable shopping bags and using them as if they were disposable. The situation has been fuelled in part by retailers selling reusable bags at prices as low as 10p.

Wales already has one of the most complicated shopping bag fee regimes in the world. Single-use shopping bags are exempt from the 5p charge if they are used for:

  • food items that are unwrapped – loose fruit and vegetables, bread, pick and mix sweets etc. This includes food items that are partly unwrapped – food placed in a sleeve or other part open wrapper.
  • loose seeds, bulbs, corms or rhizomes – loose grass seed, flower bulbs, seed potatoes etc.
  • unpackaged blades – axe, knife blade or razor blade.
  • unpackaged plants or flowers that could have been contaminated by soil.
  • packaged uncooked fish or fish products, meat or meat products, poultry or poultry products in a small bag, such as those found on a roll in the fruit and vegetable aisle.
  • live aquatic creatures in water – fish, coral, crabs etc.

The government gives the following examples which to GallonDaily illustrate how complex the rules have already become:

  • You could have loose apples, potatoes and pears in one bag and not have to charge. If you then placed a box of tea bags in there too, you would need to apply the charge.
  • If you went to a fast food restaurant and purchased a packet of fries and a burger then the fries can be placed in a free bag as they are only part wrapped and you would not be expected to place these in a reusable bag as there could be some food safety risks.  If the burger is also placed in the bag, then the bag would be charged for.

Imagine now a similar set of rules for reusable bags!

The government is also proposing to give itself the power to redirect bag fees from environmental good causes, to which they must now be directed, to “any good cause”. No doubt the work of the government will eventually be considered a good cause!

GallonDaily must explain that it is not opposed to charging for shopping bags. Almost anything provided for free is more likely to be wasted than stuff we have to pay for, so elimination of free stuff in stores or elsewhere is a good step towards sustainability. However, governments that are imposing charges for shopping bags tend to claim that their actions are making a huge difference for the environment when in fact they are a miniscule step in the direction of a more sustainable society. There are many things that government could be doing, such as helping to reduce food waste, that would have far greater benefits than messing around with new legislation for a fee on shopping bags.

Everything you want to know about the Welsh Government shopping bag charge is at and the White paper on the proposed new Environment (Wales) Bill, which is where the proposal to charge for reusable bags (known in Wales as ‘bags for life’) can be found,  is at

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