This week we ask whether the upcoming 5p charge on plastic bags is justified

Newham Recorder: Paul Reynolds, Lib Dem candidate for West HamPaul Reynolds, Lib Dem candidate for West Ham (Image: Archant)

London Councils has welcomed a mandatory 5p charge on plastic bags that will be introduced to shoppers in England from October 5. The measure has been praised by environmentalists but, with a fall in supermarkets’ use of plastic bags over the last decade due to in-store initiatives, critics say a state-enforced punitive measure is the wrong way to tackle pollution. But backers point to a rise in bags issued by stores from 8.5billion in 2012 to 8.8billion in 2013. This week, we ask whether a 5p charge on plastic bags is justified.

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Paul Reynolds, Lib Dem candidate for West Ham

Newham Recorder: John O'Connell, director at the TaxPayer's AllianceJohn O'Connell, director at the TaxPayer's Alliance (Image: Archant)

Two weeks ago, on one of my regular jogs along the River Lea in Hackney Marshes, I was shocked to see a swan under distress from part-swallowing a twisted piece of a supermarket plastic bag.

After choking for a while it managed to rid itself of the piece of bag. However, it was still swimming among a cluster of plastic bags and other rubbish.

If you take your family for a picnic in one of the wonderful parks along the Lea, your feeling of being in the countryside will be spoiled by the many old plastic bags and other rubbish blowing among the trees.

The hazard to wildlife from these single-use bags is heart-wrenching.

Most animal deaths are from choking and gastric complications – seeing a dead bird choked on plastic bags will definitely ruin your children’s picnic.

Birds, fish, and mammals cannot digest the thin plastic bags and thousands of wild animals every year die from ingesting them.

In a famous recent case in Spain, a dead whale was washed up, and it was found to have 17kg of plastic bags and related rubbish in its stomach.

In 2004 a university study found 96 per cent of dead birds in the North Sea had fragments of plastic in their stomachs.

The British government has resisted change for years.

But my party colleague, Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, announced new rules to take effect in Autumn 2015; larger supermarkets will have to charge 5p for a bag as a first step,.

Bans or compulsory charges have been introduced in Italy, California, South Africa, Bangladesh, Mexico, Australia, Wales and Scotland.

After all, you wouldn’t spread broken glass around a park, so why allow plastic bags to clog up our rivers and open spaces?

The latter are even more dangerous for animals.

John O’Connell, director at TaxPayers’ Alliance

A 5p charge on plastic bags is one thing, but making it law is quite another – there is no need for politicians to legislate on things like this.

Our shopping habits are changing, with more of us bringing our own bags to the shop as we become environmentally aware.

Some shops, like Marks and Spencer, have introduced a charge without state intervention.

Others keep bags out of sight, meaning shoppers have to request them at the till and some offer loyalty points for bringing in old bags to use.

All of this encourages people to stop using new plastic bags.

This is business responding to customers without politicians clumsily stepping in.

But they’ve now announced they’ll be doing exactly that – brandishing the stick instead of offering the carrot.

This will be burden business in Newham and across London. But what about customers?

Take shoppers that don’t load up the car for the weekly shop, but who commute to work on a bus or train.

It could prove an inconvenience if they suddenly decide they need to pick up a few bits.

And it will probably mean higher prices at shops as the burden of new taxes, charges or regulations is invariably passed on to consumers in more expensive products.

At a time when families are feeling the pinch, it’s crazy to introduce laws that could hit their pockets.

Everyone wants to help the environment and pictures of masses of plastic bags polluting oceans are shocking.

But one of Parliament’s own committees branded these proposals a “complete mess”, when they were first suggested two years ago.

All too often politicians feel they know best, when the reality is the market is adapting just fine to people’s changing preferences.

Government should be encouraging and educating, not imposing and legislating.