Single-use plastic carrier bag

Plastic bag charge rises to 10p, with all retailers now participating

Image credit: Christopher Vega | Unsplash

The charge for a single-use carrier bag increases today from 5p to 10p and now applies to all businesses in England, in a drive to further reduce the bags' environmental impact.

Under the extension, all stores including corner shops will now have to apply the charge. Previously, only businesses with 250 employees or more were obliged to levy the charge per bag, while smaller shops could choose to do so voluntarily.

The levy on single-use bags has been a success in curbing their widespread use. The 5p charge for plastic bags was introduced in England in 2015, with the most recent figures showing the number of single-use bags distributed by large supermarkets has fallen by more than 95 per cent. The average person in England now buys just four single-use bags a year, compared to around 140 in 2014.

A survey in December 2020 for waste and resources body Wrap found 73 per cent of consumers supported the levy. However, the same poll found that 26 per cent of consumers still bought single-use bags at the till when shopping for food.

By extending the charge to all retailers, it is expected the uptake of single-use carrier bags will decrease by 70-80 per cent in small and medium-sized businesses, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

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.

“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.”

Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at 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.”

The threat posed by both single-use plastics and plastics in general continues to dominate environmental discussions worldwide.

Earlier this week, an Australia-based organisation revealed that more than 130 million tonnes of single-use plastic was thrown away in 2019, almost all of which was burned, buried in landfill, or discarded directly into the environment.

The quantity of single-use plastics produced annually is also projected to grow by 30 per cent over the next five years, risking further damage to the marine environment as well as a rise in carbon emissions.

This booming single-use plastics market has been blamed on fossil fuel firms.

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