From 5th October 2015 a new law will require large shops in England to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags.
All retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees will have to charge a minimum of 5p for the single-use plastic carrier bags that they provide.
In 2013, the major supermarkets in England gave out over 7.4 billion plastic bags – that’s 133 bags for every person.
The scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags or to use ‘bags for life’.
Which shops will charge for bags
Only retailers with 250 or more employees will need to charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. This is to reduce the administrative burden on small and medium sized businesses. They can however charge on a voluntary basis if they wish.
Whether or not a shop will charge for bags depends on the size of the company that runs the shop, not on the size of an individual branch. Where a shop is run as a franchise, it depends on the number of people employed by the owner of the franchise.
Bags for life
As a shopper, you can avoid being charged by bringing your own bags or containers. In some shops, you will be able to buy thicker, reusable ‘bags for life’. Typically, you pay for these once, and can return them for a free replacement when they wear out.
There are some exemptions from the charge:
- paper bags
- shops in transit places such as airports, or on board trains, aeroplanes or ships
- bags only containing certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers, or live fish
There is currently no exemption for biodegradable bags, but the government are reviewing industry standards for the biodegradability of lightweight plastics. They have said that they also need to be sure that biodegradable bags could be identified and separated during the waste management and recycling process.
The scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags.
In 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s something like 140 bags per person, equivalent to 61,000 tonnes in total. They take longer than other bags to degrade in the environment, can damage wildlife, and are extremely visible when littered in our towns, parks and the countryside.
Despite research showing that the average household already has 40 plastic bags around the home, the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014.
The government expect to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge – by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.
Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme in Wales saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79% in its first 3 years.
The government estimate that over the next 10 years the benefits of the scheme will include:
- an expected overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy
- up to £730 million raised for good causes
- £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs
- carbon savings of £13 million
How the proceeds will be used
This is not a tax and the money from the charge does not go to the government. Retailers are expected to donate the proceeds of the scheme to good causes, but it is for them to choose which causes to support. Retailers are required to report what they do with the money from the charge, and we will publish this information each year.