It might be an indictment on the Welsh Governments’ agenda, that the most news worthy story coming out of the Senedd these days is one that follows the reactions of a nation to the looming dread of individuals having to pay 5 pence for a plastic bag in shops. Or perhaps it is an indictment on many in the nation, that so many should prove to be sounding so indignant towards the reality of having to pay what could be found dropped on a pavement for a single plastic bag. Whoever we feel in the mood to indict, the reality is that shoppers in Wales will, as of tomorrow, be facing up to the fact that, occasionally, and in some circumstances, they will have to pay a little extra should they wish to take home their shopping in a carrier bag, made of plastic, and provided by the shop. Exciting isn’t it?
Well, exciting is not the phrase that would be chosen here. It is a story of passing interest perhaps but little more. Indeed, one of the most impressive parts of the public reaction to this Welsh Government policy, is that so many companies have been charging for the use of their plastic bags for much longer, and mores the point, have been charging more for the privilege (10 pence in many cases). Yet coverage of this story dominates the Welsh media, and has received plenty of attention on the BBC 24 hour news channel. It is a fine enough policy in many respects, though one wonders why the Labour group did not take things further. 5 pence per plastic bag, in relation to the well discussed environmental arguments, seems a fair price to pay (indeed, the bag is a product provided by a company, a price of pennies for a product, environment debates to one side, seems a fair price to pay), yet Labour could have taken the move to ban them outright – that would have been newsworthy.
So the steady stream of voxpops roll out, gibbering of ‘it’s good for the environment’, ‘I already have a bag for life’, face off against ‘how can they expect us to afford it when the country is in the state it’s in’ and ‘it’s not fair, it’s not fair’…
It’s a tough one to argue against, not coherently anyway. There are too many bags floating around Wales, as well as plenty of other places in the world. Will a 5p bag tax fix this? No, not entirely, but it is a start, and frankly, given the UK governments plans to inject more money into collecting more waste, this seems an immanently more environmentally conscious scheme. As for those who seem to be hailing the impending 5penny bag as the coming of the end of days, what exactly do you think will happen as a negative consequence of this proposal? Will the elderly be financially crippled by the cost of a bag so much so that they will fear shopping in the first place? Will those on benefits be left to drop dead in the streets as they weigh up the choice of a bag over rice, a bag over vodka, a bag over cigarettes? Will families with more than one child to raise, be forced to leave their other offspring behind the bike sheds, because they just can’t afford to maintain another mouth as well as their five a week shopping bag habit? Of course not. It’s a damnable 5 penny price on a plastic bag. You can afford it, it won’t ruin your life, and it might just help to make the world slightly better for the rest of us.
It’s not exciting stuff from the Senedd, but it’s also not the end of the world. So stop your bleating, look behind the sofa before heading to the shops for those five small pieces of bronze coin, or better yet, keep the bloody bag you bought last time.
But come on Wales – please get over yourself, it’s 5p for a bag, not a taxation policy on our ability to produce blood, just relax, take the medicine (prescribed for free by the way) and let’s get on with our lives without letting the rest of the UK think this is the most pressing matter to trouble our lives here.