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Plastic bags: Government confirms all retailers in England to levy 10p charge from April

  • Defra announces plan to double 5p plastic bag charge and extend levy to all retailers from next year

The 5p charge on plastic bags is being ramped up to 10p and will be extended to all retailers in England from April next year, under plans aimed at curbing waste plastic pollution that will be announced by the government today.

Defra said the “hugely successful” 5p charge has prevented billions of plastic bags being sold and ending up in the ocean and environment since it was first introduced in 2015, with major supermarkets reporting a 95 per cent drop in plastic bag sales.


To date only retailers employing 250 or more staff have had to impose the 5p charge but when the rules are tightened from April 2021, any retailer in England, large or small, will also have to comply with the rules. At the same time the mandatory levy will double to 10p per bag.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the move would support the government’s aim to eliminate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 and help tackle the “devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and precious marine life”.

“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,” he said. “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.”

Since the 5p bag charge was introduced five years ago – spearheaded by the Lib Dems in the coalition government – the average person in England now buys just four bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with 140 in 2014, government statistics show.

By extending the bag charge and upping the levy from April next year, the government said it aimed to deliver similar progress in cutting down on single-use plastic bag use in smaller shops, by encouraging shoppers to use long-life bags made from more sustainable materials.

The change follows a consultation last year in which Defra proposed doubling and extending the plastic bag charge, which it said saw “the vast majority” of respondents welcome the plan.

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, welcomed today’s announcement.

“Since the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge we’ve seen a more than 60 per cent drop in the number of plastic bags on the UK’s beaches,” she said. “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.”

It follows an Interpol report last week which warned of an “alarming increase in the illegal plastic pollution trade” from Europe and North America since China introduced a clampdown on imports of plastic waste in 2018.

The move comes hot-on-the-heels of the government’s consultation on its planned plastic tax, which will impose a new tax on producers and retailers who use plastic packaging. The proposals have sparked a major debate across the industry over whether bioplastics and compostable plastics should be covered by the new tax or not.

Tom Fyans,  deputy chief executive at countryside charity CPRE, said it was “heartening to see” the government extend the plastic carrier bag charge, but warned far more needed to be done to tackle the UK’s “throwaway culture”.

“To truly step up and face the war on plastic, government should bring in charges on all single-use, throwaway items – from takeaway cups to wooden forks,” he said. “Incentivising reuse systems and finally committing to an all-in Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers are the only ways the government can achieve a litter-free countryside and win the war on waste.”

–Michael Holder

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