Published On: Sat, Jul 30th, 2016

Britain banishes plastic bags as 5p ‘tax’ sees usage plummet by 6 billion

Britain has virtually banished plastic bags just six months after the Government introduced a 5pc charge to discourage shoppers from using them, official data has revealed.

According to figures released today by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, shoppers are on track to use around six billion fewer single-use plastic bags this year.

Plastic Recycling

Britain banishes plastic bags as 5p ‘tax’ sees usage plummet by 6 billion

Since the policy came into force in England in October 2015, the total number of carrier bags used at the UK’s biggest retailers has fallen by an estimated 85 per cent.

The total number used fell from over seven billion a year to less than half a billion in the first six months of the policy, saving 40,801 tons of plastic, which is the equivalent weight of roughly 300 blue whales.

The rules mean all retailers with 250 or more full-time employees are now required to charge a minimum of 5p for single-use plastic carrier bags they provided for shopping in store and for deliveries.

Ministers have hailed the “fantastic” success of the policy which is set to vastly reduce the amount of plastic dumped in the ocean and raise millions for charity through the 5p charges.

Thérèse Coffey, the environment minister, said: “Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us – it will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic sat taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.

“It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”

Meanwhile environmental campaigners said the impact of the “plastic bag tax” had boosted support for banning or taxing other items that harm the environment such as disposable coffee cups and excess packaging for online goods.

Andrew Pindleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth, said the group had already begun lobbying the Government to tackle the issue, over claims that just one in 400 coffee cups are recycled every year.

He said: “Just like with carrier bags it may only take a small intervention to change consumer behaviour, for example charging 5pc for a cup or getting rid of non-recyclable ones all together.

In March Rory Stewart, the former minister of state at Defra, suggested coffee cups could be taxed to tackle a “huge” recycling problem, but within hours a spokesman for Mr Stewart’s department shut down the suggestions.

Despite its effectiveness the “plastic bag tax” encountered a number of setbacks when it was first introduced last year.

These included reports of nearly £27m worth of plastic bags being stolen by people who refused to pay for them, and as this newspaper reported, supermarkets including Sainsbury’s using a loophole in the rules to cut costs and give less to charity than rivals.

Dr Sue Kinsey, from the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results. This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular.

“There is always more that we can do and we encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.”