MP calls for government to tackle plastic bag problem

POLEGATE and Seaford MP Norman Baker has written to Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman to urge greater government action to curb the excessive use of plastic bags by retailers.

He has also suggested that she might convene a meeting of chief executives from the supermarkets to help achieve this and is also taking the matter up with the hief executive of WH Smith, which he has labelled as one of the worst offenders. But a spokesperson for the store said they were surprised by his comments.

The action by Mr Baker follows a meeting he held with a group of concerned constituents at his Friday surgery, which the deputy mayor of Seaford, Councillor Sylvia Dunn, attended.

The MP has campaigned for years on the subject, most notably through his ground-breaking report, ‘How Green Is Your Supermarket?’, which revealed that the major supermarkets alone were using 18 billion plastic bags a year.

He has suggested a deposit scheme, whereby a fee was charged for a bag but this could be reclaimed subsequently from the retailer, thereby returning the problem to its source.

Mr Baker said, “Some retailers, like Waitrose, have made a real effort to discourage plastic bags, but others seem to have moved in the opposite direction.

“In particular, I am appalled that, whenever I buy something from WH Smith in Lewes, I am invariably asked if I want a plastic bag, even if I am simply buying a thin magazine.

“The counter staff tell me they are under orders to offer bags in this way, so I am taking the matter up with WH Smith management at the highest level. As things stand, they must be in the running for a Least Green Retailer Award.”

A spokesperson for WHSmith said, “WHSmith is committed to responsibly managing its environmental impact. We are surprised by the comments from Norman Baker MP, as we continue to work hard to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags we hand out.

“Our store staff ask customers whether they need a bag, with the intention of raising customer awareness of the importance of carrier bag reduction by prompting them to question whether they really need an additional bag for their purchase.

“In addition, in many of our stores, customers who feel that they do need a bag are asked to pay 1p for a single use bag or to buy a good quality reusable bag, made from 100 per cent recycled materials.

“These initiatives have contributed to a 53 er cent reduction in the number of plastic carrier bags handed out in our stores over the last five years.

“Profits from the sale of WHSmith carrier bags are donated to the Woodland Trust. This year, WHSmith’s donation enabled the Woodland Trust to provide 700 schools across the UK with tree planting packs.”