Defra introduces 10p carrier bag levy

On the back of its announcement earlier this month, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has from today (21 May) extended the 10p carrier bag levy to all retailers.

The levy will apply to bags sold by large, medium, small, micro and airport retailers, with a fine in place for retailers that do not comply.

Defra guidelines state bags must be single-use, unused, plastic and 70 microns thick or less, and have handles and an opening.

Plastic bagThe move comes as research from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reveals the levy will be largely supported by the public, as 95 per cent of those surveyed acknowledge the environmental benefits of the charge.

The research also revealed that two-thirds (67 per cent) of participants said they use a reusable ‘bag for life’ while shopping in large supermarkets, while 4 per cent said they ‘always’ buy a single-use carrier bag at the till.

In place since 2015, the carrier bag charge has forced the sale of single-use carrier bags down by 95 per cent. By increasing the levy from 5p to 10p and applying it to businesses across England, Defra hopes to drive sales down further.

Defra statistics have found that the average consumer in England now buys four carrier bags a year from large supermarkets, compared with 140 in 2014 – before the levy was introduced.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The introduction of the 5p charge has been a phenomenal success, driving down sales of harmful plastic bags in supermarkets by a remarkable 95 per cent.

“We know we must go further to protect our natural environment and oceans, which is why we are now extending this charge to all businesses.”

Association of Convenience Stores Chief Executive James Lowman said: “We strongly welcome the inclusion of local shops and other small businesses into the successful plastic bag charging scheme, which not only helps the environment, but is also a great way for retailers to raise money for local and national charities."

Sunjiv Shah, UberEats UK General Manager said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for businesses to tackle plastic waste and to support good causes. Everyone can help play a role in protecting the environment by reducing the use of single-use plastic bags.”

The levy forms part of the UK Government’s push to tackle the environmental impact of plastic waste, as it has in recent years banned microbeads, plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, as well as launched consultations on a deposit return scheme (DRS).

Helen Bird, Strategic Engagement Manager, WRAP, commented on the move: "Since a minimum charge of 5p for plastic carrier bags was introduced there’s been a drop in usage by more than 90 per cent.

"Our research shows that the number of people saying they buy bags at the till has halved. This can only be good news and interestingly, the motivation for this reduction is not always financial, for most people it’s about doing ‘their bit’ for the environment.

We all need to unite behind a clear message that reusing a bag is the action to take. I can’t put my hand in my coat pocket or bag without finding a face mask at the moment, and I bet you can’t either.

"Just as we’ve adopted this habit for our health, I would urge everyone to try to get in the habit of carrying a carrier bag for the health of the planet."

Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner, Camilla Zerr, said: “It seems that many plastic ‘bags for life’ are being used just once, and not re-used for the bag’s lifetime, as is their purpose. So while the increased charge for single-use bags should see good results, it won’t fix bigger problems. 

“That’s because plastic bags are a drop in a heavily polluted ocean.

“If ministers want to get to the root of this problem, they need to take a tougher stand against all single-use plastics and support re-use and refill.  For too long, government has allowed a piecemeal approach which is why targets that are legally binding are now needed, and urgently. It’s these combined changes that will stop wasteful plastic in the first place.”