The 5p bag charge hit the England on 5 October, and judging by the initial reaction to the tax, the Government has a long way to go to persuade the English public of its merits…
The colossal impact on the environment made by plastic bag litter should of course be the main point of focus for the tax implementation, but pollution and lack of landfill area are no new issue. Waitrose alone hands out 257 million of the 12.4 billion free carrier bags given out by UK retailers each year and even with the intent to reduce bag usage through the promotion of bags for life, testing this water has evidently yielded no major conversion of shopper habits.
The objectives of the bag tax are to reduce waste, with proceeds going to both environmental charities as well as research institutes over the country which clearly demonstrate environmental issues are slowly moving up the agenda at Westminster, but is that resonating through to enough the population? Polls project that 62% of the shoppers in England believe that the policy is reasonable - a 6% increase since 2012. It is also only a matter of time until small businesses begin to follow suit, and there would be no reason not to.
Disgruntled shoppers have been quoted across all forms of media this week. For example a shopper told the Telegraph that “I will never, never pay for a plastic bag. It’s a scam. I don’t believe it’s to help the environment or to help charities. It’s all about the money – and we won’t see any of it.”
From a communications perspective it is interesting to investigate into the strategy behind the timing and execution of the policy. Why has the UK been so late to start to address its carbon footprint in the wake of other far “greener” European countries and is this why some shoppers are viewing the tax with much cynicism? If you can recall from personal experience there has been a marked change in the checkout experience; gone are the times of the magician-esque reeling off bag after bag for your weekly shop. One vivid memory of super market shopping on the continent, however is that you always would pay a couple of cents for your bags. This is very much an ingrained part of shopping in Europe, and needs to become the case in this country; this is the PR challenge the Government has on its hands.
Surely by utilising the media and digital space, it is imperative to drill in to shopper’s minds that they are helping put a stop to dreadful and crippling levels of waste. The next job of the Bag Tax marketing and communications effort is to make a 5p purchase part of everyone’s daily routine and not to even be questioned. A key illustration the Government will have to get across is to actually show shoppers where their money spent on plastic bags is actually going. If shoppers can clearly see a difference has been made then the policy will be viewed in a greater light, and then hopefully paying for your plastic bag will become second nature, like it is in Europe.
It is too early to predict the trends and long-term opinion on this policy, however judging by the success of both Wales and Scotland throughout 2013 and 2014 respectively, the UK as a whole should publish positive statistics in October 2016. England, compared to Europe are playing catch up, and if effective PR and the right media coverage are visible and tailored to the right audiences, this policy shall become second nature within society; and therefore a PR and marketing success.