UK plastic bag charge to be doubled and extended to all retailers

Retailers must donate funds raised through the charge to charity

The Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) first began consulting on the proposed changes in 2018, but the process of implementing the results faced delays as a result of Brexit, the 2019 general election and, most recently, Covid-19.

During the consultation, which was open to businesses, NGOs, public sector bodies, academics, trade bodies and individuals, the majority of respondents voiced support for a higher charge with broader application. At present, the charge only applies to retailers which employ 250 or more retailers, however, more than one in five small retailers have voluntarily introduced a plastic bag charge.

Defra statistics show that 95% fewer single-use plastic bags are sold in supermarkets on a monthly basis than they were before the bag charge was introduced in 2015. On a per-person basis, bag purchases annually have fallen from 140 to four since 2014. Between January 2015 and the end of 2018 alone, the distribution of 13 billion plastic bags is believed to have been mitigated because of the charge.

The Department hopes that extending the charge will eliminate more “unnecessary waste” and inspire other nations to improve their legislation on plastics in the run-up to COP26 next November.

“We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head-on,” Environment Secretary George Eustice said, citing Marine Conservation Society (MSC) research which found that the amount of plastic bags washing up on UK beaches has dropped by 60% since the charge was introduced.

In the bag

According to one study for the journal Science of the Total Environment, 30% less plastic bags were found on seabeds around Europe in 2018 than in 2010, largely due to new legislation in Ireland and Denmark as well as the UK.

However, Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency recorded a 26% surge in ‘bags for life’ sales between 2017 and 2019, arguing that the bags were increasing the plastics waste footprint of supermarkets.

In response, Morrisons is exploring the possibility of getting rid of plastic bags at checkouts altogether. The supermarket is currently trialling recyclable and reusable paper bags for the same price point as its plastic bags for life, having already phased out 5p bas.

Sarah George

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