With England following Scotland and Northern Ireland by charging for plastic bags in supermarkets and some shops, as discussed in this BBC News article, shopping practices in the whole of the UK are now consistent.
The reasons for taking this action are clear:
Over 7.5 billion plastic bags were given out by supermarkets in England in 2014.
Both Ireland and Scotland have seen a considerable reduction in the number of plastic bags used, which has knock-on implications for volumes going to landfill and blowing around city streets as litter.
It is hoped that the carbon footprint will be reduced dramatically as fewer bags are made and discarded after a single use.
The intention is to incentivise people to change their practices and re-use the plastic bags as a matter of habit.
Adding barcodes makes the change easier to manage
The universal use of barcodes at supermarket check-outs means that, if the plastic bags have a barcode printed on them, it is a simple matter to register the charge along with all the other shopping. It will also be easier to monitor the use of plastic bags to see how effective the new regulations are. Of course, such custom label printing is much easier to manage if companies supplying the bags have their own label printer, in which case adding a bar code to other marketing information can be handled by pressing a few keys.
Who is affected?
Shops and supermarket chains which employ more than 250 people have had to introduce the charges, which means that smaller shops can decide whether or not they follow suit. There are a number of exceptions, however, including the plastic bags provided at airports or on ships, trains and planes. Paper bags are also exempt.
What happens to the money charged for the bags?
The government have stressed that this is not a tax, so the supermarkets will keep the money, but they are expected to use it to support local charities, community projects or other good causes. They will also have to provide information on just how the money is being used, so it is probably a question of “watch this space”.
Are other changes to packaging likely to follow?
There have already been some efforts to reduce the amount of packaging on goods, although the regulations governing hygiene and food packaging, for instance, sometimes make this more difficult. With the emphasis on climate change, greenhouse gases and general environmental issues, it would not be surprising if manufacturers were to be encouraged (or even forced) to reduce their packaging as much as possible. The flexibility of having an in-house label printer, in terms of style, size and images for product labels is likely to be of benefit in this event too.
We probably all become irritated at times when trying to open an item and have to get through 2 or 3 layers of packaging, which does seem like overkill. Obviously, there is a balance to be had in protecting goods from damage or contamination, whilst providing any essential information specific to that product. One trend that has emerged in recent years, especially with food packaging, has been to have an inner container sealed (possibly vacuum sealed) in plastic, whilst the outer cardboard packaging, which has the images, nutritional details and so on, is just a small sleeve, rather than a whole box, thus reducing the packaging by around half.
In the meantime, customers can play their part for the environment by not asking for additional bags for everything when they don’t really need them and either buying the stronger “bags for life”, getting into the habit of carrying plastic bags around to re-use, or even – revolutionary though this might seem – using boxes in the car boot, in which to unload the trolley, or having fabric shopping bags which will last several years!
About the author
Christine Mathers has always been concerned about the environment and has welcomed the new charges for plastic bags in England with open arms. As the quality manager with a large food processing company, she is well aware of the issues around packaging and labelling and is pleased that she has been able to introduce some changes which save the company money, as well as reducing their carbon footprint.
She is a “Friend” of her local London park and spends some of her spare time picking litter and visiting local schools to encourage them to keep the park litter free.
Keywords custom label printing, Digital label printer, packaging and labelling, plastic bag charges, in-house label printing, barcode labels, food packaging, print your own labels