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Billions of carrier bags saved in first six months of English charge

Billions of carrier bags saved in first six months of English charge
Shoppers in England are set to use six billion fewer plastic bags in the year following the introduction of the five pence (5p) charge in October, which has also raised more than £29 million for good causes.

7.6 billion carrier bags were issued by the seven main retailers (Asda, M&S, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Co-operative group, Waitrose and Morrisons) in 2014, but this figure fell to just over half a billion (0.6 billion) in the six months after the charge on single-use bags was brought in, a drop of 61 per cent.

Under the terms of the charge, all retailers with 250 or more employees must charge 5p for all single-use bags with a few exceptions, like those only carrying unwrapped food or uncooked fish or meat.

Former Environment Minister Rory Stewart said at the beginning of the charge that the government was targeting an 80 per cent reduction in the number of carrier bags used in supermarkets. In the first quarter of the Scottish carrier bag charge, introduced in October 2014, major retailers reported a reduction of 66 per cent.

Retailers have to report sales of single-use bags to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) every May and are encouraged to donate proceeds of the charge to good causes, a practice that is compulsory with similar charges in Wales and Scotland.

More than £29 million has already been donated to good causes through the scheme, and the government has estimated that the charge will raise around £730 million for good causes over the next 10 years.

Tesco leading field in bags sold

According to figures published by Defra, 285 retailers registered and reported data to Defra during the first reporting period this May.

Tesco sold the most single-use carrier bags by some distance, issuing almost 320 million, compared to the 95 million sold by Morrisons, the second highest. Tesco was also one of the two major retailers to report how many bags for life have been sold during the charge (59.5 million). The Co-operative, which has sold the third most single-use carrier bags have also sold 10.8 million bags for life.

The gross proceeds of Tesco’s single-use carrier bag sales, which don’t include bags for life, were just under £16 million, £11.2 million of which was donated to local causes chosen by customers and staff.

For every 5p charged, 0.83p goes to the Treasury in VAT (£2.6 million in Tesco’s case) and retailers are allowed to deduct costs of administration necessitated by the charge before donating the proceeds.

In total, the treasury has accrued £8.75 million in extra VAT through the first six months of the charge.

‘Small actions can make the biggest difference’

Commenting on the figures, Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: “Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us – it will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic sat taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.

“The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success – not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefitted from an impressive £29 million raised.

“It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”

A carrier bag floating in the sea
Bags saved the equivalent of 300 blue whales

According to research by Eunomia Research & Consulting, 12.2 million tonnes of plastic enters the marine environment every year, the majority of which comes from land-based sources. This plastic causes number of problems with wildlife, both through entanglement and ingestion, and is leading to potentially ‘profound’ effects on ecosystems.

Reducing the use of single-use carrier bags by six billion is the equivalent of the weight of around 300 blue whales.

Dr Sue Kinsey, Technical Specialist of Waste at the Marine Conservation Society said: “We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results. This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular.

“There is always more that we can do and we encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.”

The reported data for the English carrier bag charge can be downloaded from the government’s website.

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