More than 7 billion harmful plastic bags have been prevented from blighting our streets and countryside thanks to the single-use carrier bag charge, new figures announced by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow today (31 July) show.
A 5p charge was first introduced in supermarkets in 2015. Since then, usage at the main retailers – Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose – has dropped by more than 98%.
The average person in England now buys just two single-use carrier bags a year from these businesses, compared with around 140 in 2014 before the charge was introduced.
The number of single-use carrier bags reported as sold by the main retailers was 133 million in 2022/23, down from 197 million in 2021/2022, representing a reduction of 33%. This is a huge drop from the 7.6 billion used in 2014.
In 2021, the charge was increased to 10p and extended to all businesses. This has helped bring the number of bags used down by more than 35% from 627 million in 2019/20 to 406 million in 2022/23.
Meanwhile, retailers have voluntarily donated more than £206 million from the proceeds to good causes in education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health and charity or volunteering sectors since the charge’s introduction.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Our charge has helped to stop billions of single-use carrier bags littering our neighbourhoods or heading to landfill while ensuring millions of pounds go to good causes.
We are determined to do more to tackle plastic pollution at source, with further bans on single-use products starting in October and our deposit return scheme will cut litter and drive up recycling rates. We continue to encourage all relevant retailers to play their part in further reducing the use of single-use carrier bags.
Andrew Opie, Director of Food & Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said:
Retailers have worked closely with the government over the single-use bag charges to ensure it has been an industry-wide success – with 98% fewer bags used across the biggest grocery retailers. It has also generated millions in funds that retailers have donated to a variety of good causes.
The success of the carrier bag charge builds on the government’s action to turn the tide on plastic waste. In 2018 the government announced one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads in rinse-off personal care products and in 2020 we introduced restrictions on the supply of single-use plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds.
The government also introduced a tax of more than £200 per tonne on plastic packaging manufactured in or imported into the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled plastic in April 2022.
Through the Environment Act, the government is bringing in further measures to tackle plastic pollution and litter. This includes introducing a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and plans for simpler recycling collections for every household and business in England.
A range of polluting single-use plastics will be banned in England from 1 October 2023. The restrictions will include single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers.