5p carrier bag charge becomes law today

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  • 5p charge for single-use plastic bags from retailers employing over 250 staff
  • Number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets in 2014 increased for the fifth year running to 8.5 billion
  • In England, more than 7.6 billion were given out in 2014, the equivalent of 140 per person and 61,000 tonnes in total
  • Wales, the first in the UK to adopt a charge, saw a reduction in plastic bags being handed out of 79% in the first three years

From today large stores will have to charge shoppers 5p per single use carrier bag in a in an effort to spare the environment from the billions handed out by UK supermarkets every year.

Any unused, plastic bags with handles which are 70 microns thick or less will have a charge to the customer - this does not include any sealed packaging.

Paper bags will be exempt and so will plastic bags from airport shops, on trains, planes and ships.

But the rules will only apply to businesses that sell or delivers goods, but only those with more than 250 members of full-time staff.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) said it was encouraging its members in England to introduce their own voluntary charging schemes wherever practical.

James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS, said: “Independent retailers in England support the introduction of a universal 5p single-use carrier bag charge, with 15% already having their own voluntary scheme in place.

“Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to exclude small businesses, creating confusion for both retailers and consumers.”

Online shoppers will pay too

The charge will also apply to online shopping orders, for example, Tesco have contacted customers highlighting the change: “So that we comply at tesco.com, unless you choose a bagless delivery, there will be a charge per order for an online grocery delivery or collection… worked out based on the average number of carrier bags needed to pack an order.”

Carrier bags used on the rise

In 2014 British supermarkets gave out 8.5 billion plastic bags, an increase of 2.3 % compared with 2013 (8.3 billion). The new 5p charge should hopefully reduce the number of plastic bags, which will be beneficial for the environment.

Similar 5p charges were introduced in Wales in October 2011; followed by Northern Ireland in April 2013 and Scotland in October 2014.

The scheme in Wales has seen a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79% since it was launched in 2011. In Scotland, the number of bags handed out by supermarket has dropped by 147 million.

Exemptions from the 5p charge

The new rules could cause confusion at the checkouts as many items are exempt, including:

Uncooked fish and fish products.

Uncooked meat, poultry and their products.

Unwrapped food for animal or human consumption e.g. chips or food sold in containers not secure enough to prevent leakage.

Unwrapped loose seeds, flowers, bulbs or goods contaminated by soil.

Unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades

Prescription medicine.

Live aquatic creatures in water.

Woven plastic bags.

Goods in transport, such as at an airport or on a train, plane or ship.

Items considered as sealed packaging for mail order and click-and-collect orders.

Returnable multiple reuse bags (bags for life).

Bags used to give away free promotional material.

Bags used for a service where there’s no sale of goods e.g. dry cleaning, shoe repairs.

If even one non-exempt item is placed in the bag, cashiers must charge 5p.

Bag charges to help good causes

Retailers are expected to donate all proceeds from carrier bag sales to good causes.

The biggest donations will be generated by the supermarkets.

In Scotland, Boots has been giving money from charges to Macmillan Cancer Support. From October, it will give all UK proceeds to Children in Need.

Morrisons will give money to the Sue Ryder hospices and Superdrug is donating the money to support Marie Curie Cancer Care.

However, the government is set to make £19m a year from the VAT attached to the sales of bags.

Break the Bag Habit

The initiative appears to have the support of the majority of shoppers in England, with 62% thinking it is reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags - a 6% increase on 2012, a poll for the Break the Bag Habit coalition of litter charities found.

But the latest survey found 51% were in support of an even more comprehensive scheme that extended the charge to all retailers.

Break the Bag Habit spokeswoman Samantha Harding said: “It is great that the Government has decided to introduce a bag charge in England, starting with major retailers and plastic bags.

“This poll shows that the appetite is there to support a more comprehensive scheme, and tackle more of the bag litter that blights our countryside, rivers, towns and seas.”

Find out more about charges for single-use plastic carrier bags.