London could move step a closer to its goal of becoming the greenest city in the world with the announcement last week of plans for a new tax on plastic bags. However, the government has indicated it could block the proposals arguing such a tax would prove counter-productive.
The proposals for a 10 pence levy on all plastic bags given out by supermarkets to be included in a bill to be put before parliament this November were put forward by London Councils, the umbrella group representing the capital's 33 boroughs.
Chairman of London Councils, councillor Merrick Cockell, said that a "bolder approach" to waste reduction was required. "What we are proposing may sound extreme – but so too is the number of plastic bags that currently have to be sent to landfill because we can't recycle them," he said. "This is about changing habits. People need to realise that the 'free' plastic bag they pick up in the supermarket is not really free at all – certainly not in its cost to the environment. Introducing a levy on plastic bags should help consumers think twice before picking them up in future."
He added that the goal of the tax was not to raise revenue and any funds generated by the move would be re-invested in improving recycling facilities.
Mayor Ken Livingstone welcomed the proposals claiming he would have introduced such a levy himself had his powers allowed him to do so.
The proposals emulate a similar tax in Ireland, which London Councils claims has led to a significant reduction in demand for plastic bags.
However, despite widespread support from environmentalists London Councils admitted that it expects that the proposals will face a stiff challenge if they are to make it into law, and according to The Guardian last week Defra has already signalled its opposition to the idea.
The paper quoted a spokeswoman for the department who insisted that the government's voluntary agreement with supermarkets to cut bag use by a quarter by 2008 would prove more successful than a tax and claimed that Ireland's plastic bag levy had lead to an increase in demand for more environmentally harmful plastic bin liners.
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