5p Plastic Bag Charge – One Year On
One year ago, on 5 October, England’s 5p charge on all single-use plastic carrier bags came into effect. The charge was enacted in order to reduce the number of single-use plastic carrier bags, and the litter associated with them.
So, one year on has the charge been a success? Have we decreased the number of single-use shopping bags? Many critics predicted it would never work – the charge would burden shoppers and cause chaos. On the contrary however, the charge has seen an overwhelming reduction in the consumption of single-use carrier bags – and that was only in the first six months!
In the first six months, DEFRA reported,
- The amount of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England went down by more than 85%.
- Just over 500m bags were handed out in the first six months, down from a whopping 7bn by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge.
- At least £29.2 million was donated to good causes – environment, education, health, arts, charity or voluntary organisations, heritage and sports as well as local causes.
Moreover, according to recent research by Cardiff University less than 1 in 15 English shoppers now use single-use carrier bags. The research goes on to find around 90% of people in England now take their own bags with them when food shopping as a result of the plastic carrier bag charge, as opposed to 70% before the charge. While we are still waiting for official data from the first year, DEFRA estimates, we can expect the charge to contribute over £780 million to the UK economy – with up to £730 million raised for good causes. We should also see a £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs and a carbon savings of £13 million over the first 10 years.
Why the Charge?
According to DEFRA, 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. Despite research showing the average household already has 40 plastic bags at home, the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014. With around 16,000 tonnes of plastic bags being sent to landfill each year and 8 million tonnes of plastic finding its way in to the oceans something had to be done!
What Can I Do?
It’s great to see what a success the 5p charge has been. We can now all enjoy seeing fewer bags stuck in our tree branches, littered on the pavement and taking up space in our kitchens! But what else can we do?
For starters, if you haven’t invested in a bag-for-life or a durable cloth tote bag – perhaps now is the time. There are lots of nice, affordable options out there. Have a look at our reuse guide for further inspiration. Most importantly however, remember to bring it with you. If you’re forgetful opt for a small foldable bag that you can leave in your rucksack, car, handbag or pocket!
Plastic bags aren’t the only single-use plastic clogging up our landfills. Much of our food, particularly fresh produce comes wrapped in it. While most of this plastic is intended to protect and extend the life of our food – a lot of food can still be bought package free and if stored wisely will last just as long. Buy fruits and vegetables loose when possible, it’s often cheaper. Just remember to bring your own small paper or cloth bags to put them in if required. Store loose vegetables, herbs and salads in reusable containers in the fridge.
Plastic water bottles also seem to be every where, from inside kiosks to the pavement outside or the bush next to the bus stop – but they don’t have to be! Invest in a reusable water bottle – it’ll save you money. While coffee and tea cups are mainly paper-based, most have a plastic sleeve inside that makes them difficult to recycle. Rather than throwing these cups in the bin after just one use – why not try a travel mug or better yet have your drink in the shop before dashing off to your next stop!