Defra to extend plastic bag charge in England

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced that it will be extending the plastic bag charge in England to all retailers from April 2021 as part of its ‘war on plastic waste’.

Announced yesterday (31 August), Defra will also be doubling the charge for single-use plastic bags sold at the checkout in shops from five pence to 10 pence, following a positive response to this proposal in a public consultation held last year.

Since the plastic bag charge was introduced in England in 2015 to all retailers employing 250 or more people, Defra says that single-use plastic bag sales in supermarkets have fallen by 95 per cent.

Defra to extend plastic bag charge in EnglandAccording to Defra, the average person in England now buys just four bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared to 140 in 2014. The government hopes that the extension of the charge to all retailers will further incentivise the uptake of long-lasting reusable bags and prevent plastic waste from the estimated three billion single-use bags supplied by small retailers every year.

The introduction of the charge in England followed its introduction in the other nations of the UK in Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014.

The proceeds of the charge are directed towards charitable causes. £9.2 million was raised for good causes in 2019/20, falling from £65.4 million in 2016/17. The fall can be attributed to fewer bags being sold and changes in which retailers provide information, with 78 retailers providing voluntary information about donations in 2019/20 compared to 167 in 2016/17.

Commenting on the charge extension, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head on.

"The UK is already a world-leader in this global effort, and our carrier bag charge has been hugely successful in taking billions of harmful plastic bags out of circulation. But we want to go further by extending this to all retailers so we can continue to cut unnecessary waste and build back greener.

"I hope our pioneering track record on single-use plastics will inspire many more countries to follow suit, so we can take on plastic waste together and implement lasting change.”

With the charge seemingly also resulting in less plastic bag litter in the marine environment around the UK, Dr Laura Foster, Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, added: “It’s encouraging to see the government take further steps in reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bags. Since the introduction of the five pence carrier bag charge we’ve seen a more than 60 per cent drop in the number of plastic bags on the UK’s beaches.

“It’s so important we reduce our reliance on single use items and we move to a culture of reuse. This increased charge, and extending to all retailers, will help remind people of everyday, simple changes they can make to help the marine environment.”

Defra states that the plastic bag charge extension underlines the government’s commitment to tackling single-use plastic outlined in its 25 Year Environment Plan and Resources and Waste Strategy, and stands alongside policies such as the ban on microbeads in wash-off cosmetics, the upcoming ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, a deposit return scheme for beverage containers and a Plastics Tax on on all plastic packaging containing less than 30 per cent recycled content. 

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