The single-use carrier bag charge has today (21 May) increased from 5p to 10p and been extended to all businesses in England.
The charge has seen a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets since 2015 and the move will help drive down sales further, Government says.
Before the 5p bag charge was introduced, the average household used around 140 single-use plastic carrier bags a year, and this has now been reduced to four, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
By extending the charge to all retailers, it is hoped that the use of single-use carrier bags will decrease by 70-80% in small and medium-sized businesses.
The move is also expected to benefit the UK economy by over £297 million over the next 10 years.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “Everyone wants to play their part in reducing the scourge of plastic waste that blights our environment and oceans. The 5p bag charge has been hugely successful, but we can go further.
From today we will increase the charge to 10p and extend it to all businesses. This will support the ambitious action we have already taken in our fight against plastic as we build back greener
“From today we will increase the charge to 10p and extend it to all businesses. This will support the ambitious action we have already taken in our fight against plastic as we build back greener.
“We have banned the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, banned microbeads in personal care products, and we are consulting on a new deposit return scheme for drinks containers.”
Since the introduction of the charge, almost £180 million has been raised by retailers for good causes from the revenue collected.
Last year, from the £9.2 million that was reported, around 30% went to charity, volunteering, environment and health sectors, 49% went to causes chosen by customers or staff and 21% went to a combination of good causes.
Helen Bird, Strategic Engagement Manager, WRAP said: “The introduction of a charge has had a significant influence in reducing the number of bags purchased at stores. I’m confident that the increase to 10p and the extension across all shops will continue this decline.
“However, there are reports of increased purchasing of so-called ‘bags for life’, likely being used just once. To truly benefit the planet, bags, regardless of what they are made from, need to be reused many times over. Once they are worn out they can be recycled, or in the case of ‘bags for life’, replaced for free by supermarkets.
“Most supermarkets are members of The UK Plastics Pact, committing to all plastic packaging to be recyclable by 2025. And ahead of plastic bags and wrapping being collected directly from peoples’ homes, many are working towards accepting all of these soft plastics at their stores including bread bags, frozen food bags and crisp packets which are sorted for onward recycling.”
Bags for Life
Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner, Camilla Zerr, however questioned whether ‘bags for life’ which are intended to be reused are being used ‘just once’.
She said: “It seems that many plastic ‘bags for life’ are being used just once, and not re-used for the bag’s lifetime, as is their purpose. So while the increased charge for single-use bags should see good results, it won’t fix bigger problems.
“That’s because plastic bags are a drop in a heavily polluted ocean.
“If ministers want to get to the root of this problem, they need to take a tougher stand against all single-use plastics and support re-use and refill.
“For too long, government has allowed a piecemeal approach which is why targets that are legally binding are now needed, and urgently. It’s these combined changes that will stop wasteful plastic in the first place.”
We need retailers and government to acknowledge the inadequacy of the levy as a reduction measure and respond to the environmental impact that plastic bags have with the urgency and boldness it requires by enforcing an outright ban
In response to the rollout of the increased charge, environmental non-profit, Planet Patrol, is calling for an ‘outright ban’ on plastic bags and for ‘more accurate reporting’ on the success of the plastic bag charge.
Whilst Government reports that the plastic bag charge, which was introduced in 2015, has led to a 95% drop in plastic bag sales, Planet Patrol argues this is ‘misleading’ as does not include the ‘huge increase’ in Bag for Life sales over the same period which it says has ‘skyrocketed’.
Lizzie Carr, Founder of Planet Patrol, comments: “There are billions of plastic bags already in circulation and as numbers continue to rise it’s increasingly clear the levy is little more than window dressing.
“We need retailers and government to acknowledge the inadequacy of the levy as a reduction measure and respond to the environmental impact that plastic bags have with the urgency and boldness it requires by enforcing an outright ban.
“This is an opportunity for government to listen to the widespread public support Planet Patrol’s Big Bag Ban campaign has generated and take a leading stance against plastic pollution by tackling it in a meaningful way.”