PLANS for a new levy on plastic bags have sparked a debate over the future of shopping in Wales.

The compulsory charge of 7p per bag would be introduced in an effort to reduce the number of carriers being used.

If approved, the measure – being driven by Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson – is set to come into force from spring 2011. A second consultation on the levy was launched by the minister last week and closes on August 2.

More than 400 million single-use carrier bags are currently given out to shoppers in Wales each year.

Opponents say the bags take between 500 and 1,000 years to degrade and release harmful greenhouse gases.

But some believe a levy on their use would pose a threat to business on the high street.

Mrs Davidson described carrier bags as “an iconic symbol of the throwaway society in which we live” and said the charge would deliver “an important message about the need for us to live much more sustainable lives”.

She added: “I believe the seven pence charge is high enough to encourage consumers to change their shopping habits but not so high that it will stop impulse shopping or create a significant burden when we have forgotten reusable bags.”

However, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) says the charge will hamper economic recovery.

Janet Jones, the FSB’s Welsh policy chair, said: “Small retailers are heavily reliant on impulse buying. Consumers are less likely to prepare in advance to shop at a small business and we are very concerned about the impacts of this levy on impulse buying and ultimately the futures of numerous firms.”

She added that a better way to reduce carrier bag use would be to educate consumers and provide incentives for them to use alternatives.

Holywell town centre manager Medwyn Roberts agrees with the FSB. He said:

“From an environmental point of view I think anything that can help reduce the use of plastic bags is good. I just think the timing is not right because of the economic climate, especially for small businesses.”

Isobel Watson, town centre manager for Wrexham, said: “In the food side of retail, people have become accustomed to using their own bags.

“It’s in the clothing sector it may impact more. There is concern about the recession and having extra charges won’t help.”

However, Mold town centre manager David Hill said that while he would like to know what the revenue generated would be used for, “anything that can reduce reliance on bags is good”.

He added: “In this day and age it is not unreasonable to charge people for using bags.”

Meanwhile, the UK coalition Government is expected to rule out a controversial “pay as you throw” charge for household waste in England and look instead at a scheme for rewarding recyclers.

The pay-as-you-throw approach is still being considered in Wales.

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