Plastic Bag Use in England Tumbles Thanks to 5p Charge

World | Sustainable Development

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

Major supermarkets in England have seen a huge drop in the number of plastic bags issued to customers since they were forced to begin charging 5p for their use in 2015.

The latest statistics published by Defra last week show the seven major retailers voluntarily providing data issued around six billion fewer single-use plastic bags – an 83 per cent drop – during 2016/17 compared to the 2014 calendar year.

This would be equivalent to each person in the population using around 25 bags during 2016 to 2017, compared to around 140 bags a year before the charge, according to Defra.

Since October 5 2015 large shops in England have been required to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags, and to report certain information on plastic bag sales to Defra, in a bid to cut plastic waste.

Last week Defra published statistics on the first full financial year of plastic bag use since the 5p charge was brought into law.

The data was compiled from bag use figures from Asda, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco, the Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons for their stores in England only, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland having separate rules and reporting requirements.

It shows that all large retailers in England sold 2.1 billion single-use plastic carrier bags during the year from 7 April 2016 to 6 April 2017, in addition to selling 1.1 billion bags during the first six months of the 5p charge in 2015 to 2016.

Meanwhile, of all the retailers in total that provided data in 2015 to 2016, Defra said 13 (five per cent) have now changed to using either paper bags or re-useable bags and are therefore no longer required to report on the number of bags used. They had previously reported sales that accounted for 0.2 per cent of the total number single-use plastic carrier bags in the six-month reporting period for 2015 to 2016, according to the Department.

The majority of money raised from the 5p levy is given to good causes, with almost two-thirds of retailers voluntarily providing additional information on how much they had donated. Defra said these retailers donated over £66m to good causes, amounting to 4p for every single-use bag sold by them.

The news follows Michael Gove’s first speech as Environment Secretary last week, in which he confirmed further government plans reduce plastic waste by pressing ahead with a ban microbeads from cosmetic and personal care products in the UK.