From today (5 October) major retailers in England will begin to charge shoppers a minimum of 5p per plastic carrier bag in an effort to reduce the amount of single-use carrier used and discarded in the country.
Retailers that employ 250 or more full-time equivalent employees are required by law to enforce the charges. Small or medium-sized business are not required to charge, but may do so voluntarily.
The initiative is aimed at reducing litter, with bags being one of the most highly visible forms of litter on our streets, roads, hedges, parks, trees, beaches and, ultimately, in our oceans, all with potentially devastating effects, according to Keep Britain Tidy.
Over 8bn single-use plastic carrier bags are used by shoppers in England every year.
A bag is considered chargeable if it has an opening and isn’t sealed. It must be un-used, plastic, have handles and must be 70 microns thick or less.
Keep Britain Tidy – “Obviously there is a lot more that needs to be done to change the behaviour of those who think it is acceptable to throw their rubbish on the floor but Monday marks a significant first step on the road to a litter-free country”
Retailers are required to keep a reporting year’s records for 3 years on the number of bags supplied, the gross and net proceeds of the charge, any VAT in the gross proceeds, what it did with the proceeds from the charge and any reasonable costs and how they break down.
“It’s expected that you’ll donate all proceeds to good causes,” Defra guidance states.
Allison Ogden-Newton, Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive, said: “We applaud the introduction of the single-use carrier bag charge.
“This is the first government action in a decade that is specifically designed to tackle our country?s litter issue. We hope the charge will see a significant reduction in the use, and subsequent littering, of plastic bags.
“Obviously there is a lot more that needs to be done to change the behaviour of those who think it is acceptable to throw their rubbish on the floor but Monday marks a significant first step on the road to a litter-free country.”
The levy comes after WRAP statistics found that carrier bag usage had increased in England by 2.3% compared with 2013.
Biodegradable Carrier Bags
There are no exemptions for biodegradable bags in place at present. However, the government is considering an exemption to encourage development of a new, “genuinely” biodegradable, more environmentally friendly bag.
This would be introduced as an amendment at a later date.
Defra has commissioned a review of existing industry standards for biodegradability of lightweight plastics. It will review whether there are standards that could be used to introduce an exemption from the charge and, if so, how the exemption would be carried out. Defra has to submit the report to Parliament by 5 October 2015.
Plastic Bag Charge
In Wales, where a bag charge has been in place since 2011, there has been a reduction in bag use of around 70% and in September this year announced between £17m and £22m had been donated to good causes.
Also this year, Northern Ireland announced a 70% reduction in the use of single use bags as a result of the tax implemented in 2013.
Carrier bag usage in Scotland was reduced by 147m last year, despite the charge on single use carrier bags only being in place for the last 11 weeks of the year.
In Scotland, bag usage dropped from 193.5m in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 64.6m during the same period in 2014, suggesting that Scotland is well on track to achieve a reduction of more than 80 per cent in the use of single-use carrier bags.
The country raised £1m for good causes in just six months through the levy.