The Government has launched a consultation concerning its plans to increase the plastic bag charge and extend it to all retailers.
Most SMEs still not charging for bags
Currently, only large businesses have to charge customers the 5p fee for every single-use plastic bag they use. It’s estimated that over 3.6 billion single-use plastic bags are supplied annually by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). While trade bodies representing around 40,000 small retailers have already launched a voluntary 5p charge, this accounts for less than one-fifth of England’s estimated 253,000 SMEs. Under the new plans, all retailers will need to charge and the price will rise to 10p.
Smaller stores are often at the heart of a local community providing a range of essential services to local people, and will be encouraged to donate proceeds to good causes. Latest figures show that for 2017/18 5p plastic bag sales contributed over £51m toward charities and other good causes.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman welcomed the Government plans to extend the charge to all shops and said there is wide support among small shops in England for a mandatory charge.
“This has been shown to be highly effective at reducing waste, whilst also raising money for local, national and environmental charities,” he said.
“Around half of small shops in England already charge for plastic bags voluntarily.”
However, he warned that there was a need to look carefully at the reporting requirements for SMEs to ensure they are not too burdensome, and Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) warned that SMEs would need time and support to adopt the charge.
Making a measurable difference
In their 2018 Future of the Sea report, Government scientists estimated that the quantity of plastic in the sea will treble in a decade unless marine litter is curbed, with one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals killed every year by eating plastic or becoming entangled in it.
The 5p charge, introduced in 2015, has seen single use plastic bag sales in major supermarkets drop by 86% according to Defra figures. This is equivalent to just 19 bags in 2017/18 per person in England, compared with 140 bags each before the Government introduced the charge.
But has there been any effect in our marine environment?
Yes (although there are caveats). A 2018 report, Below the surface: Twenty-five years of seafloor litter monitoring in coastal seas of North West Europe (1992–2017), confirmed there has been a significant decrease in plastic bags in the waters around the UK since 2010, although some of this may be due to changing plastic bag composition and the plastic charges and bans imposed by other European countries, some of which were introduced years before England’s 5p charge (such as those imposed by Ireland and Denmark in 2003).
The proposed extended plastic bag charge is the latest of the Government’s measures to crackdown on plastic. It recently announced a range of measures to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste underpinned by the landmark Resources and Waste Strategy, and has already announced:
- A ban on microbeads
- A consultation on restricting the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds
- Plans for a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates of drinks bottles and cans subject to consultation
- A tax on plastic packaging that doesn’t contain a minimum of 30% recycled content, subject to consultation, from April 2022
Speaking about the success of the established 5p charge and the proposed extension plans, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:
“Between us, we have taken over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation.
“But we want to do even more to protect our precious planet and [the plans] will accelerate further behaviour change and build on the success of the existing charge.”
What’s your opinion on the plastic bag charge? Do you agree with the environmental groups calling for an increased charge of £1 for plastic ‘bags for life’?
If you would like to add your views to the Government consultation on the charge extension and increase, you can respond to the survey until 22nd Feb 2019.