Britain's plastic film manufacturers believe they have put up an effective case in their battle to block a retail plastic carrier-bag tax in Scotland.
Armed with what they see as an arsenal of facts, industry leaders have presented evidence to the Scottish Parliament, which is considering a private member's bill to introduce the environmental levy.
The film manufacturers were overjoyed to find that much of their case has been supported in the findings of an independent impact-assessment report on the proposal, commissioned by the Scottish Executive. The report was described as ``devastating for those environmentalists who attack plastics bags,'' said David Tyson, chief executive of the Packaging and Industrial Films Association in Nottingham, England.
``This [report] proves what the industry has been saying for more than a decade. The report makes quite clear that, if a plastic bag tax is introduced, the environmental impact will be greater than before across all environmental indicators, with the single exception of litter, where paper is slightly less obtrusive than plastic when waste blows into hedgerows,'' Tyson said.
He spoke at Interplas '05, held Oct. 4-6 in Birmingham.
The Scottish bill, tabled by Liberal Democrat MSP (Member of Scottish Parliament) Mike Pringle, was inspired by a similar plastic bag law, the so-called PlasTax, introduced in Ireland in 2002. That measure, designed to reduce litter, imposed on consumers a levy equivalent to 13 U.S. cents per retail plastic bag. According to the Irish government, this has slashed the consumption of thin plastic carrier bags by about 95 percent.
But PIFA argues that removing the thin polyethylene bags ignores the fact that consumers reuse them in the home. The group points to a big rise in imports of bin liners and refuse sacks, as well as thicker, reusable polypropylene bags in Ireland since the arrival of the bag tax.
The British film makers argue that in the United Kingdom, all types of plastic bags make up less than 1 percent of all litter and plastic carrier bags take up just 0.3 percent of landfill waste volume. The reuse of thin but strong carrier bags for domestic waste represents ``a very hygienic approach,'' according to Tyson.
The Scottish report, issued in August, also points out that a plastic bag tax would result in an extra 12.1 million pounds of material entering the national waste stream from bulkier paper bag waste, he said. That, he said, would be contrary to the European Union's waste landfill directive.
The impact-assessment report projects a likely loss of 300-700 jobs among national plastic carrier-bag makers, Tyson pointed out.
Britain's film and bag manufacturers accept that they must play a part in reducing the environmental impact of plastic packaging and support reuse and recycling of their products. That, they argue, can best be done through a voluntary code of conduct rather than by a bag tax. PIFA said it already is promoting a code, to be developed with retailers in talks with the Scottish Executive.
But, warned Tyson, if a plastic bag tax is adopted in Scotland, the industry would not hesitate to charge discrimination against one material stream resulting in no clear environmental benefit at the European Court.
Tyson complained that the film industry was treated unfairly when it came to presenting its case before the Scottish Parliament's environmental and rural development committee. The Carrier Bag Consortium, the United Kingdom bag producers' lobby group that led industry interests at the hearing Oct. 26, was given 45 minutes to put forth its point of view, against a full day each for Irish government and retailers, and for the Scottish environment minister and the bill's promoter, he said.
The film and bag sector also was represented at the hearing by executives from three Scottish firms, including Europe's top PE film, bag and sack maker, Greenock, Scotland-based BPI plc.
``I think we've rather shaken the situation in Scotland. When it started a year ago, this [proposal] looked like a free ride. It was an emotional situation, and they thought it would get support from many directions.
``In fact, I think [bag tax promoters] have been very surprised at the technical information and the pressure that's come up against them to disprove the environmental advantages [of the measure],'' Tyson said.
Written evidence and the Scottish parliamentary hearings are due to be completed by early November and the parliamentary committee is set to report to MSPs in December. Tyson expects the bill then may be debated by Parliament before a final decision is issued in January.
Scotland's local authorities, which under the new bill would be responsible for collecting the tax through retailers, oppose the measure. The regional councils believe they would face administrative difficulties and that the plan would not cover its running costs, let alone fund local environmental projects, according to their association, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
PIFA's Tyson believes attitudes to such legislation are changing in Ireland after the bag-tax experience. The Irish government is now turning its attention to fast-food packaging, including expanded polystyrene containers, he said.
``They have taken a rather different, more constructive approach to this. They are engaging in discussion with the industry on voluntary codes,'' he said.