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10-23-2015

English Shops Charge for Plastic Bags

On Monday 5th October 2015 carrier bag charging began in England, similar to the charging already in place in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland (figure: Tesco)

On Monday 5th October 2015 carrier bag charging began in England, similar to the charging already in place in Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland (figure: Tesco)

From October 5th on, customers at all large UK shops are charged 5p for each single-use carrier bag they use during their shopping trip as part of a new Government scheme. The law requires only large businesses to charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. This applies to retailers who have 250 or more employees. Smaller businesses can also charge on a voluntary basis if they wish.

There is currently no exemption for biodegradable bags, but the Government is reviewing industry standards for the biodegradability of lightweight plastics. Biodegradable bags must be able to be identified and separated during the waste management and recycling process.

The scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags. In 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s something like 140 bags per person, equivalent to 61,000 t in total. The government expects to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge - by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street. Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme in Wales saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79% in its first three years.

The 5p charge is not a tax and does not go to the government. The Government expects retailers to donate the proceeds of the scheme to good causes, but it is for them to choose what to do, and which causes to support. Retailers will need to report to the Government about what they do with the money from the charge, and the Government will publish this information each year.

Supermarket giant Tesco announced that the money raised from the 5p bag charge in England will be used to pay for a large number of local environmental improvement projects in communities right across the UK. The kinds of projects that will get the green light as a result of the funding will include building new pocket parks, sports facilities, woodland walks and community gardens.

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