Sales of single-use plastic bags down 90 per cent since 5p charge

A pile of plastic bagsNew figures published today (31 July) by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reveal that sales of single-use plastic bags have fallen by 90 per cent since the introduction of the five pence charge in 2015.

The seven biggest retailers in England – Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose – sold 490 million fewer single-use plastic bags in 2018/19 compared to the previous year. The largest reductions came from Tesco and Morrisons, who reduced their plastic bag sales by 63 per cent and 64 per cent respectively.

According to the new figures, the average person in England buys just 10 bags per year, compared to 140 in 2014.

Since the charge was introduced on 5 October 2015, sales from the five pence charge have contributed around £169 million toward charities, with more than £22 million raised in 2018/19 alone.

Commenting on the new figures, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Our comprehensive action to slash plastic waste and leave our environment in a better state continues to deliver results, with our five pence charge reducing plastic bag sales by 90 per cent in the big supermarkets.

“No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife. Today’s figures are a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.”

The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, released in January 2018, proposed an increase of the five pence charge to 10 pence, as well as an extension of the charge to all retailers, not just those employing more than 250 members of staff. With Theresa Villiers only recently appointed to the position of Environment Secretary in Boris Johnson's new Cabinet, whether the government will follow through with these plans remains to be seen – no mention of the policy was included in today’s announcement.

‘Target Zero’ campaign: Plastic contamination in the firing line

Welcoming the news of the drop in plastic bag sales, the Renewable Energy Association (REA) has highlighted that, although this is a substantial achievement, more work is needed to cut down on plastics contamination, urging the government to turn its attention towards removing plastics from garden waste.

The REA will be launching its ‘Target Zero’ campaign, which aims to eradicate plastic contamination in food and garden waste through a guide to help households correctly dispose of their waste.

Jeremy Jacobs, Technical Director at the REA, said: “Plastic bag sales falling by 90 per cent since the introduction of the five pence charge is an extraordinary feat. It’s a testament to what can be achieved when government, industry and consumers throw their weight behind an initiative.

“Whilst a huge step in the battle against contamination and single-use plastics, the war is not yet over. Unwanted plastics are still prevalent in household garden waste collections and this is having a detrimental impact on the quality of composts.

“It is imperative that we apply the same pace of change to removing plastics in garden waste as we have in cutting single-use carrier bags.”

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