MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee have called for the plastic bag charge in England to be introduced sooner.
The Government has announced that it plans to introduce a 5p charge for plastic bags in 2015, but MPs on the committee have recommended that the charge be brought in sooner in its Departmental Annual Report 2012-13 that looks at Defra’s activity over the past year.
It also praises Defra for launching a call for evidence for a genuinely biodegradable plastic bag that would “break down to the molecule” and that would be exempt from the charge.
In the report, the EFRA committee said: “We encourage industry to follow-up on the Secretary of State’s desire to see the development of a genuinely biodegradable plastic bag which can be used to carry shopping.
“We are pleased that the Government has finally agreed to impose a charge for single-use plastic carrier bags in supermarkets and larger food retailers.
“However, we are disappointed that the charge will not come into effect in England until 2015, despite evidence of its success in reducing plastic carrier bag usage in other parts of the UK and Ireland.
“Reducing the number of single-use carrier bags which are given away is a quick win: reducing both waste and environmental pollution with little effort. While we would welcome the development of a fully biodegradable shopping bag to replace existing plastic bags, this should not be a condition for the introduction of the charge. Given the evidence elsewhere, we recommend the early introduction of the charge. When fully degradable plastic bags are available, these should be exempt from the charge.”
The Committee also asked for more clarity on what reduced activity in the waste sector will mean as well as how other cuts to the budget of Defra will impact on its work and that of the Environment Agency.
It noted that Resources Minister Dan Rogerson had written to the waste sector to outline its reduced activity.
The report said: “We understand that nearly all Government departments face budget cuts, but savings must not have an adverse impact on the Department’s ability to respond to emergencies.
“We invite the department to set out its position in relation to reported reduction in staff at the Environment Agency…and reduced activity in the waste sector.”
MPs also noted that morale was poor at Defra with the Civil Service People Survey Engagement Index showing a score of just 50 per cent, which is 8 per cent lower than the Civil Service average of 58 per cent.