Carrier bag charging confusion in England

Carrier bag charging confusion in England

A large number of members have been contacted by customers concerned about the carrier bag charge to be implemented in England and whether it applies to their businesses. The Defra website contains information though this falls short of the clarity of the guidance provided by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when they introduced the charge.

So to be clear:

The charge applies to plastic bags only, with handles and 70 microns or less. This includes bags for home and store delivery.

The charge does not apply to businesses with less than 250 employees calculated by adding together the total hours worked by all employees divided by the hours of one full time employee.  This employment number applies to a business. A business being the direct employer. So a symbol or franchise is not a business in this context but a business that is composed of a number of stores that are members of a franchise and employ more than 250 will need to charge but one which also a member of the same franchise and employs less than 250 would not charge.

There is an exemption for bags used for  ‘unwrapped food for human consumption for example, chips, or food sold in containers not secure enough to prevent leakage during normal handling‘. We would say unless fully sealed then the pack is not secure enough to prevent leaking in normal handling. However if a fully sealed pack such as a beverage carton or bottled or canned drink is placed in the bag then a charge must be made.

There is also an exemption for ‘goods in transport, such as at an airport or on a train, plane or ship’. 

Its very interesting to note the Food Standards Agency has just issued guidelines to consumers on the reuse of carrier bags. To quote:
Raw foods (raw meat, raw fish, loose vegetables with soil on, and eggs) can contain germs that cause food poisoning. Packing any of these foods with ready-to-eat foods (eg bread, cooked meats and cheese) can lead to the germs spreading, especially if there are any spillages or leaks.
To keep you and your family safe, here’s our advice for packing food into bags when shopping:
• Pack raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods, in separate bags. This could either be a plastic bag provided by the shop (there will be no charge for bags that only contain unwrapped food, goods contaminated by soil, raw meat and fish); or a reusable bag for life.
• If you use bags for life, keep one or two for raw foods only and don’t use the same bags again for ready-to-eat foods.
• Check your bags for spillages (for example raw meat juices or soil) after every use. If there has been any spillage, soiling or damage, plastic bags for life or single-use plastic carrier bags should ideally be disposed of.

Most takeaways would not place ready to eat food in a used bag for obvious reasons. We suspect some members of the public may wish takeaway foods to be placed in a bag they have previously used. Given a foodservice operator has no idea as to what the bag has previously contained we would urge total caution with regard to reusing a bag. Its very possible this may cause some difficulties and we would urge the FSA to make a clear statement that under no circumstances should ready to eat, takeaway food be placed in a previously used bag.
There are so many different circumstances in which bags are used by the foodservice sector so please do continue to contact FPA admin with any queries.