UK plastic bag charge set to double to 10p

The Government has confirmed that it will launch a consultation on whether the nation's current charge for single-use plastic carrier bags should be doubled to 10p and rolled out to every shop in the country.

The move comes after the introduction of the initial 5p charge in 2015 led to an 86% reduction in the number of carrier bags sold in England over a three-year period, with the average resident now purchasing 121 fewer bags this year than they did three years ago.

The existing 5p charge only applies to large retailers with more than 250 employees – but after a fifth of the UK’s SMEs voluntarily introduced an equivalent charge, the consultation will explore whether the same rules should apply to businesses of all sizes in all sectors.

Currently, it is estimated that more than three million bags are supplied by small and medium companies across the UK every year.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove welcomed the consultation and said the moves would help to position the UK as a global leader on plastics waste.

“Thanks to the public’s support, our plastic bag charge has been hugely successful – it has taken 13 billion plastic bags out of circulation in the last two years alone,” Gove said. “Today, we are building on that success to ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it.”

The announcement was also met with support from the Federation of Independent Retailers’ national president, Mike Mitchelson, who said a move to include SMEs in the policy would encourage more businesses to play their part in tackling the plastics problem.

However, A Plastic Planet’s founder Sian Sutherland said that increasing pressure on consumers to change their habits could be the wrong approach.

“This levy increase unfairly targets consumers while major brands continue to force plastic upon them,” Sutherland said. “The government needs to shift its focus on to them if it is to become a world leader in tackling the plastic problem.”

It’s in the bag

The Government originally agreed to a consultation on extending the 5p carrier bag charge as part of its 25-year Environment Plan.

Introduced in England in 2015, the current charge has been attributed to a 30% drop in plastic bags found on the seabed in a large area from close to Norway and Germany to northern France, and west of Ireland. Recent statistics from Defra revealed that plastic bag purchases at Asda, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-op, Tesco and Waitrose have fallen dramatically as a result of the charge.

The data notes that the number of plastic bags used per person annually has fallen from 140 to 19 – a decrease of nearly 300 million bags in the past year alone. The Defra figures also note that the 5p plastic bag sales contributed almost £58.5m toward charities over the past 12 months.

edie has published a comprehensive summary of what these seven supermarkets are doing to tackle a variety of single-use plastic items and packaging. You can read our guide here.

Scout and about

In related news, the UK Government has also announced that it will create a new Activity Pack to encourage young girl and boy Scouts to tackle plastics pollution.

As part of her visit to Africa this week, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged around £40,000 for a new Girl Guides and Scouts Plastic Challenge Badge. The badge will help Scouts in both Kenya and the UK reduce the among of single-use plastic seeping into the oceans.

The Government will distribute a new Plastics and Marine Environment Activity Pack to help UK Scouts better understand and act upon the plastics problem. An exchange programme between the two nations’ Scouts programmes has also been created.

On a wider level, the UK Government has implemented a ban on microbeads in rinse-off care products, created a phase-out on the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and has consulted on the introduction of a deposit return scheme to improve the recycling of plastic drinks bottles and containers.

Single-use plastics at Responsible Retail 2018

Solving the plastics problem is one of the key themes running throughout edie’s upcoming Responsible Retail 2018 conference, taking place on 20 September in London.

The full-day event has been designed for the retailers, sustainability professionals and key stakeholders that are looking for the information, insight and inspiration required to seize the sustainability opportunity.

Find out more about Responsible Retail 2018 and register to attend here.

Sarah George and Matt Mace

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