Plastic bag 5p charge comes into effect: here is everything you need to know

Shops will start charging for carrier bags on Monday

Hazel Sheffield
Monday 05 October 2015 08:11 BST
There are 40 plastic bags around the average home
There are 40 plastic bags around the average home (Getty Images)

Shoppers in England will now be charged 5p for each new large carrier bag as part of a change in the law that aims to reduce litter and protect the environment.

All you need to know about the 5p plastic bag charge

The change brings England in line with the rest of the UK, where a small charge already applies. In Wales, plastic bag use fell by 79 per cent in the first thre years of the charge. However there are fears that the scheme might not be as successful in England because smaller bags and paper bag are not included.

The law has been introduced to reduce the use of carrier bags, encourage reuse and to stop so many from littering pavements and clogging up landfills. And the public is largely in favour. A poll for the Break the Bag Habit coalition of litter charities found that 62 per cent of English shoppers think it is reasonable to charge 5p, a 6 per cent increase since 2012.

Here’s everything you need to know about the charge.

Which shops will charge for carrier bags?

Only shops with more than 250 employees will charge for carrier bags. Smaller shop owners can choose to charge if they wish. But we’re talking about the big supermarkets, not your independent local off-licence.


Number of carrier bags given away in 2014

How can I avoid being charged?

The point of the campaign is to get people to reuse bags, so you can reuse carriers, or invest in a bag for life, which is a bit more money but should also last a bit longer. They’re called a bag for life because most of the time you can bring them in and get them replaced if they wear out.

Is there no other way to avoid being charged?

Yes – there are some instances where the charged is scrapped, including:

• paper bags

• shops in airports, or on board trains, aeroplanes or ships

• bags only containing certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish where there is a food safety risk, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers, or live fish

A full list of items with which you will still get a free bag is available here.

What about biodegradable bags?

You still have to pay for so-called ‘biodegradable bags’, which are made of lightweight plastics. This is because the government still hasn’t worked out how to process these bags and whether they re better for the environment.

What’s the point of all this?

In 2014 alone,

plastic bags were given away to customers. That’s 140 plastic bags per person, or 61,000 tonnes of wasted plastic. And the number is going up.

So the Government is acting to try and cut this waste. It is hoped that the charge will cut single use of carrier bags by 80 per cent in supermarkets and 50 per cent on the high street.

They reckon there’s money in it too – up to £780 million for the UK economy, and £13 million saved in carbon costs.

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