Scotland has rejected a proposal to tax plastic bags, while British Columbia has put a similar proposal on the back burner.
Bag taxes and bans have popped up around the world in recent years, including in Ireland and Australia. Other cities and nations have or are considering taxes, typically in response to litter problems.
Scotland and British Columbia are the latest to consider a tax. Most recently, San Francisco agreed to table a 17 cent-per-bag tax a year ago in exchange for an agreement to voluntarily limit bag use.
Bag suppliers and retailers in Scotland and British Columbia offered similar compromises, with mixed success.
Plastics leaders in Britain claimed a ``major victory'' on hearing that Mike Pringle, a member of the Scottish Parliament in the ruling Liberal Democrat party, had withdrawn his tax bill just days before a scheduled vote.
``This is excellent news which will have global impacts,'' said Barry Turner, chairman of the U.K. Carrier Bag Consortium, a lobbying arm of Britain's Packaging and Industrial Films Association.
``It proves two things: firstly, that there has never been any viable justification for taxing plastic bags in the name of the environment, and secondly, that cynical political moves, that suggest our industry is not environmentally responsible, will be vigorously exposed,'' Turner said.
His organization has battled for two years to block attempts to impose an 18 cent tax on retail bags in Scotland.
The consortium argued that lightweight plastic bags are not a significant contributor to litter and domestic waste in Scotland. Also, the group showed that a similar tax in Ireland did not really benefit the environment because consumers switched to heavier bags made of alternative materials.
Turner warned that ``the problem of ill-conceived and punitive measures against the plastic carrier has not gone away.'' The British government may reconsider legislation, he said, if industry and retailers fail to work out a voluntary plan to reduce retail bag use and encourage re-use and curbside recycling.
``In spite of the fact that our industry has most to lose by participating in voluntary means of reduction, we support such an option, as the alternative is having our industry decimated by ill-conceived legislation for no good environmental reason,'' said PIFA Chief Executive Officer David Tyson.
Scotland could still introduce some form of levy for plastic bags in future, as part of its planned waste prevention program. This plan is due to be published by the end of this year.
Meantime, the proposed plastic bag tax for British Columbia was tabled at a recent meeting of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
Janice Harris, a North Vancouver Council member, has been publicly promoting a 25 cent tax on retail bags. She presented the proposal at a UBCM meeting held Oct. 27. After her three-minute dissertation, she requested the UBCM executive study it further. Under meeting procedures, that request ended discussion and no voting took place on the issue at the time.
``We wanted this proposal to come to a vote so that it could be finally and permanently defeated,'' said Mark Startup, president and chief executive officer of the Retail BC association. ``Unfortunately, what we witnessed was political maneuvering to try and keep this flawed idea alive.''
Retail BC, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Plastics Industry Association issued a news release after the UBCM meeting decrying the proposal.
Councilors supporting the tax ``didn't have the courage of their own convictions to let it come to a vote,'' said CTF's British Columbia director Sara MacIntyre. ``What they're saying to consumers is that they don't care if the majority are opposed, they'll find another way to engineer the tax grab.''
About 69 percent of British Columbia residents have said they would not support a plastic bag tax, according to a Decima Poll survey in October 2005.
In a summer interview, Harris admitted the bag tax could be just the beginning of a larger campaign to restrict plastics use. In a Nov. 2 telephone interview, she said her proposal could be considered by the UBCM executive for as long as a year before the executive comes out with a recommendation.
CPIA Vice President Cathy Cirko stated the three associations ``will continue to be vigilant and will fight any attempt to reintroduce such a flawed proposal.''